History Making Decision Places Key Bird Areas Within Peruvian System of Protected Lands

For Immediate Release

ABC Birds
Contact: 

Robert Johns, American Bird Conservancy, 202-234-7181,
bjohns@abcbirds.org, www.abcbirds.org

History Making Decision Places Key Bird Areas Within Peruvian System of Protected Lands

WASHINGTON - For the first time in South American history, governmental protections for marine waters have been provided through a formal network of protected areas as a result of a new Peruvian Government declaration. The announcement on December 30, 2009 added 22 so-called "guano islands," 11 peninsulas (guano reserves) and adjacent waters along Peru's western coast to the country's national system of protected areas. These guano reserves support dense nesting colonies of millions of seabirds, including the endangered Peruvian Diving-petrel, and ten vulnerable species such as the Humboldt Penguin.

"One hundred years from now, we may look back at this as a "sea change" in the political role of the environment in South America. The key will be the extent to which this decision gets fully developed, implemented and enforced," said Dr. Patricia Majluf, Director of the Center for Environmental Sustainability at Peru's Cayetano Heredia University, who provided the long-term impetus for this initiative.

"American Bird Conservancy is hopeful that this new declaration has the teeth of regulation and enforcement to support and protect important, and in some cases, endangered seabird populations," said Dr. Jessica Hardesty Norris, Seabird Program Director for American Bird Conservancy.

The newly designated areas cover about 350,000 acres, including protections extending two miles into surrounding waters. This action by the Peruvian Government has been awaiting approval since it was first presented in 2001.

The rich Humboldt Current just off Peru's coast nourishes the most productive marine ecosystem in the world, attracting millions of seabirds to nest on coastal islands and mainland peninsulas. The guano reserves and their immediate surroundings are also home to endangered sea turtles and marine mammals. They are the breeding ground for 72 percent of South American fur seals, 84 percent of Southern sea lions, and 60 percent of Humboldt Penguins. One of the most seriously impacted birds is the Peruvian Diving-petrel. In Peru, this endangered species is only found in this newly protected region, nesting in burrows dug into guano. American Bird Conservancy's Seabird Program recently supported a threat assessment for the species and the primary finding was that ending guano extraction at the primary nesting colony increased the number of birds that breed there each year.

The guano that accumulates at these seabird colonies is a much sought-after organic fertilizer, and drove Peru's economy for decades. In fact, the guano islands of Peru were once an international model of excellence in seabird management. After population crashes at the turn of the 20th Century resulting from guano extraction, Peruvian managers implemented strict protections for the islands so that guano could be extracted with minimal impacts to the birds that produced it. These improvements quadrupled the bird populations by about 1960.

Unfortunately, the guano market crashed with the advent of chemical fertilizers and overfishing of the seabird's main prey species - the Peruvian anchovy. When the once-thriving colonies were left under protected, many quickly succumbed to introduced predators and human disturbance, including harvest of the birds.

ProAbonos, the national guano export business that has managed the islands for the past decade, recently turned management of the islands and mainland sites back over to the Peruvian Government.

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American Bird Conservancy (ABC) conserves native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts to safeguard the rarest bird species, restore habitats, and reduce threats, while building capacity in the conservation movement. ABC is the voice for birds, ensuring that they are adequately protected; that sufficient funding is available for bird conservation; and that land is protected and properly managed to maintain viable habitat. ABC is a 501(c)(3) membership organization that is consistently awarded a top, four-star rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator.

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