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Lawsuit Launched Over Trump's Failure to Protect Emperor Penguins

WASHINGTON - The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice today of its intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to act on a petition to grant the emperor penguin Endangered Species Act protection. The notice follows news that the world’s second-largest emperor penguin colony has nearly vanished because of sea-ice loss.

“Emperor penguins have needed protection for a long time, but Trump’s fossil-fuel-first agenda has dialed up the urgency,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “Chicks are drowning as climate change melts their habitat. Further delay in slashing carbon pollution could wipe out one of our planet’s most amazing birds.”

Emperor penguins need reliable sea ice for breeding and raising their chicks. In parts of Antarctica where sea ice is disappearing, emperor penguin populations are declining or have been lost entirely.

Last week’s widely covered study found that the emperor penguin colony at Halley Bay suffered catastrophic breeding failure during the past three years due to record-low sea ice and early ice breakup. In 2016 more than 10,000 chicks are estimated to have perished when the sea ice broke up before they were ready to swim.

The emperor penguin colony featured in the film March of the Penguins has declined by more than 50 percent, and the Dion Island colony in the Antarctic Peninsula has disappeared.

Warming ocean temperatures and melting sea ice in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica have also diminished the availability of krill, a key food source for emperor penguins. Ocean acidification, resulting from the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide, and industrial krill fisheries further threaten the penguins’ food supply.

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Without large-scale cuts in carbon pollution, emperor penguins could experience a global population decline of 40 to 99 percent over three generations by the end of the century.  

In 2006 the Center filed a petition to list 12 penguin species, including the emperor penguin, as threatened or endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected seven penguin species, but not the emperor penguin. In 2011 the Center re-petitioned  based on new scientific evidence. In 2014 the agency agreed that the emperor penguin may be endangered by climate change, but it has failed to make the required 12-month finding on whether to propose protections.

An Endangered Species Act listing would compel the government to address threats to the penguin, including the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change and industrial overfishing of key prey species. U.S.-flagged fishing vessels operating on the high seas would be required to minimize their harms to penguins. And federal agencies would be required to ensure that their actions, including those generating large volumes of carbon pollution, do not jeopardize the penguin or its habitat.

“Emperor penguins capture our imaginations because they’re devoted parents and tough survivors,” Wolf said. “To stem their suffering, and our own, we have to demand bold action to keep climate-killing fossil fuels in the ground.”

Emperor penguin

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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