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Penguins Find Sanctuary in Argentina’s New Marine Park


Magellanic penguin colony photo by Graham Harris/Wildlife Conservation Society.

Good news in the last few hours of a year that will not be remembered for good news: Argentina has proclaimed a new coastal marine park that will offer a sanctuary to a great many species, including half a million penguins.

“The park protects one of the most productive and extraordinary marine ecosystems on the planet,” said Guillermo Harris, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Argentina Program. “The creation of this park comes in the nick of time for many species that are threatened by the region’s fishing and energy industries.”

New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced the news today.


Magellanic oystercatchers photo by Graham Harris/Wildlife Conservation Society

The park’s creation represents a joint effort by the National Parks Service of Argentina, Government of Chubut, Wildlife Conservation Society and its local partner Fundación Patagonia Natural with support from the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, WCS said in a statement.

“The park, which became official earlier this month, protects half a million penguins along with several species of rare seabirds and the region’s only population of South American fur seals,” the statement said.  “It is the first protected area in Argentina specifically designed to safeguard not only onshore breeding colonies but also areas of ocean where wildlife feed at sea.”

WCS researchers, working with Fundación Patagonia Natural, provided critical data of key wildlife to ensure that the park’s boundaries would include both onshore areas and adjacent waters. 


Imperial cormorants photo by Graham Harris/Wildlife Conservation Society.

Researchers found that the area was in need of protection from increasing pressures by commercial fishing and the oil industry. “While the coastline is largely undeveloped, its wildlife has been increasingly threatened by commercial fishing nets, which can entangle birds as they feed,” WCS said. “Oil pollution from tankers transporting petroleum from southern Patagonia to Buenos Aires, coupled with expanding offshore oil drilling, have also loomed as growing threats in recent years.”

Located in Golfo San Jorge in Chubut Province, some 1,056 miles (1,700 kilometers) south of Buenos Aires, the new protected area covers approximately 250 square miles (647 square kilometers) of coastal waters and nearby islands strung along almost 100 miles (160 kilometers) of shoreline.

The region serves as a nesting and feeding ground for some quarter million pairs of Magellanic penguin, estimated to represent 25 percent of the entire population in Patagonia, WCS said.

Its 50 small islands also support two nesting colonies of southern giant petrels that represent over 80 percent of its population on the entire Patagonian coast. “Other denizens of this coastal oasis include the endangered Olrog’s gull, the white-headed steamer duck, and almost one third of all imperial and rock cormorants of Argentina,” WCS added.

Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas provided funding for the creation of the coastal protected area and for WCS’s multi-faceted efforts to safeguard coastal Patagonia, including the Sea & Sky program, which is committed to achieving long-term viability of the Patagonian Sea by integrating the best available science, building capacity and providing inspiration to promote local interest in ocean conservation. 

WCS has been active in Patagonia since the 1960s, conducting studies for the conservation of southern right whales, Magellanic penguins, southern elephant seals, and other unique wildlife. The charity manages some 740,000 acres of wilderness on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego, part of a major donation of land made by Goldman Sachs in 2004.