Impact Investing Conference

Impact Investing Conference

Impact Investing Conference

Proposed marine protections would provide resilience to mounting threats to regional wildlife, including penguins

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — The highly contagious H5N1 virus, commonly known as avian or bird flu, has been confirmed in two seabirds—both of them Antarctic skuas—on the Antarctic Peninsula. And on February 23, scientists from the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center of the Higher Council for Scientific Research in Madrid confirmed the presence of the deadly virus for the first time on the Antarctic continent.

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Since 2021, H5N1 is thought to have killed millions of wild birds globally; marine mammals, such as sea lions and seals, are also susceptible to the virus. Since H5N1 arrived in South America in 2022, more than 500,000 seabirds have died of the disease, with penguins, pelicans, and boobies among the most heavily affected. But H5N1 doesn’t only affect birds; it has caused near-complete breeding failure for some colonies of elephant seals.

With the virus now confirmed in Antarctica, the only region to not be affected by this latest H5N1 outbreak is Oceania.

In a research paper published last November, a group of scientists wrote: “If the virus does start to cause mass mortality events across penguin colonies, it could signal one of the largest ecological disasters of modern times.”

Andrea Kavanagh, who directs Southern Ocean conservation work for the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy project, said:

“The new threat of avian flu, in addition to warming temperatures and the highly concentrated nature of the krill fishery, could be catastrophic for the penguin colonies, other seabirds, and marine mammals found in the Antarctic Peninsula.

“The peninsula is one of the fastest warming places on the planet, the region in Antarctica that is most visited by tourists, and the place where the Southern Ocean’s most concentrated fishery can be found. Now another threat has landed on its shores.

“World leaders must immediately move to protect this vital place and all the animals that call it home.

“The commitment these leaders have made to create a network in the region of marine protected areas—which would cover more than 4.5 million square kilometers (more than 1.7 million square miles) of the Southern Ocean in East Antarctica, the Weddell Sea, and the Antarctic Peninsula itself—is 13 years behind schedule. There is no room for further delay. 

“We call on leaders to prioritize and implement measures that will secure the future of the Southern Ocean, and its invaluable contributions to the global environment, as part of a drive to set aside a full 30% of the oceans as conservation areas, where fish stocks and marine animals can recover from decades of overfishing and go on to repopulate the rest of the ocean.

“Not only can the species found in the Antarctic Peninsula not withstand increasing threats, but the world needs a healthy Southern Ocean ecosystem.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts and Dona Bertarelli created the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project with the shared goal of establishing the first generation of ecologically significant, large, and effective marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world. Today, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project also seeks to connect MPAs and help conserve key migratory species and entire marine ecosystems. These efforts build on more than a decade of work by Pew and the Bertarelli Foundation to create large-scale highly or fully protected MPAs. Between them, the organizations have helped to obtain designations or commitments to safeguard nearly 12.6 million square kilometers (4.8 million square miles) of ocean by working with communities, local leaders, philanthropic partners, Indigenous groups, government officials, and scientists.

Founded in 1948, The Pew Charitable Trusts uses data to make a difference. Pew addresses the challenges of a changing world by illuminating issues, creating common ground, and advancing ambitious projects that lead to tangible progress, including the need for effective marine conservation.

Contact: Barb Cvrkel, 202-510-5670, [email protected]

SOURCE The Pew Charitable Trusts



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