Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) diving off iceberg, Antarctica, January © / Tim Laman / WWF

Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) diving off iceberg, Antarctica, January © / Tim Laman / WWF

Why I’m celebrating Penguin Awareness Day

20 Jan 2017

  • antarctica
  • climate change
  • penguins

Let’s talk about penguins. These charismatic little birds have waddled and danced their way into the affections of people all around the world. But, today on Penguin Awareness Day, I’m sad to say that without taking action now, we may lose them.

Just yesterday it was announced that 2016 was officially the hottest year ever. If there was ever a time for action on climate change, it’s now.

And it’s not just us feeling the heat, all around the world we’re seeing nature sounding the alarm through extreme weather events and the accelerating pace of glacial melt in both the Arctic and Antarctic.

Which brings me to penguins. Of the 18 species of penguins in the world, eight are found in the Antarctic.

Already climate change is having an impact on two of the iconic Antarctic species: The Adélie and emperor penguins. These two species nest on the Antarctic continent, making them unique and at the same time placing them at the mercy of climate change.

Hysterical Penguins for Penguin Awareness Day by Judy Horacek

Last year WWF-Australia released a report; Tracking Antarctica, an update on the state of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

The report shows that the greatest immediate threat to the Antarctic penguins is changes to vital sea ice habitat.

Warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula has already meant a loss in sea ice and subsequently a loss in Adélie penguin numbers in that area.

We believe we may lose a third of the population in the next 40 years due to the impacts of climate change on their habitat and their food supply unless action to mitigate these threats is taken.

The famous emperor penguin is also at risk from rising temperatures; colonies across Antarctica are shrinking as temperatures are rising. One colony in the northernmost part of Antarctica has disappeared along with the fast ice where they made their home.
We fear that if major changes to sea ice continue, it will lead to a continent-wide decline and regional near extinction of emperor penguins by the end of this century.

Protecting this rich ecosystem is beyond the capacity of any one country or organisation, which is why today, on Penguin Awareness Day, I want to call us all to action.

Because there is hope.

The Paris Agreement holds the key to keeping global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees or below. So far the world’s largest carbon emitters, including the US, China, the UK, EU and Australia, have signed.

This hard won achievement was possible because we all came together from all walks of life and from around the world, to demand action to change climate change for the future.

Together, we must keep momentum geared towards upholding the Paris Agreement and pushing for investments in renewable energy solutions.

Together we can secure the future for us and our feathered friends in the Antarctic . That’s why I’m celebrating Penguin Awareness Day.

Join us now.


Glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula have undergone progressive change due to increase in ocean temperatures.


Figure 1 from Tracking Antarctica: In recent decades, hundreds of glaciers draining the Antarctic Peninsula (63° to 70°S) have undergone systematic and progressive change. Ocean induced melting are the primary cause of retreat for glaciers in this region 16. This figure shows the mean ocean temperatures and overall glacier area changes on the Antarctic Peninsula 1945-2009. Ocean circulation and water masses are shown systematically: Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW), Bransfield Strait Water (BSW), Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) CDW, and Shelf Water (SW).


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