Researcher Calls for Marine Zoning to Save Penguins

February 24, 2014
CONTACT: Lisa Hall, 425-352-5461,

Marine Zoning is Needed to Curb Oil Pollution and Commercial Fishing’s Deadly Impact on Penguin Migration

Bothell, WA – A University of Washington Bothell researcher is calling for marine zoning to protect Magellanic penguins in the South Atlantic. Findings of a new study published in the February issue of the journal Biological Conservation indicate that the penguins migrate great distances during which they are subject to deadly impacts of offshore oil extraction and transport as well as fisheries bycatch (the unintentional capture of non-target species in fishing gear). The study found that survival during migration is a primary regulator of the penguin population. The human-caused mortality that penguins experience during migration is a likely driver of recent observed declines in some populations of the species.

David Stokes, a professor of environmental science in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, is lead author of the study. He used long-term data to provide the first comprehensive description of the Magellanic penguins’ seasonal migration, one of the longest documented for a flightless bird.

Stokes says that one of the key challenges in biodiversity conservation is how to protect wide-ranging species. “The predominant approach to wildlife conservation is not effective for conserving a highly mobile species such as the Magellanic penguin. You’re not going to preserve this species by locking up little coastal preserves,” he says. “As long as we fail to implement holistic and large-scale conservation measures of the kind we recommend, populations of this species are likely to continue to decline.”

Many PenguinsTo characterize the migration of the penguins breeding in southern Argentina, the researchers used satellite tracking and a 30-year record of identification band recoveries from a large, long-term study of approximately 60,000 birds. Band returns show these penguins migrate annually to the coastal waters of northern Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil, typically travelling a one-way distance of nearly 1,500 miles.

The new information on the penguins’ migration provides the scientific basis for an effective conservation approach – marine zoning – for penguins, as well as other marine species that occur in the area. “Our study provides a model for both developing the scientific information necessary for conservation of highly mobile marine species, and laying out an approach to conservation--marine zoning--that can accommodate the movement requirements of these species.”

An international conservation and management zone based on the marine habitat requirements of the Magellanic penguin would extend along the Atlantic coast of South America from the southern limit of penguin breeding colonies to the northern limit of the penguin’s seasonal migration. The zone would consist of management areas with seasonal regulations of human activities timed to correspond to the use of the areas by penguins. Types of regulations could include localized shifting seasonal regulation of net fisheries that target small schooling fish, and seasonal operations rules, safety requirements, and shipping lane locations for petroleum extraction and transport. These protections would benefit a wide range of marine species in the region that are currently unprotected.

Oily PenguinStokes says this marine zoning approach is more practical for wide-ranging species like the Magellanic penguin than traditional conservation methods such as strictly protected marine preserves. These tend to be controversial and small, particularly in coastal areas that are heavily populated by humans, such as much of the Atlantic coast of South America.

While these findings point to human activity as a contributor to the decline of the penguins, the volunteer effort behind the research also indicates that humans take a great interest in the penguins’ survival. “The study is notable for the extremely large number of citizen participants,” says Stokes. “It would not have been possible to do this work without the help of the many non-scientist volunteers, both those who banded thousands of penguins at the breeding colonies and those who discovered and reported band recoveries along thousands of miles of South American coastline.”

About UW Bothell: With more than 36 undergraduate and graduate degrees, options, certificates and concentrations, UW Bothell emphasizes close student-faculty interaction and critical thinking. UW Bothell builds regional partnerships, inspires change, creates knowledge, shares discoveries and prepares students for leadership in the state of Washington and beyond. For more information, visit

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