At their current rate of decline, New Zealand’s iconic yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) will become extinct by 2060, a new study in PeerJ reports.
This finding comes from researchers at the University of Otago, who discovered that a wide range of external factors are pressuring the threatened species. These include rising sea temperatures, which have killed almost a third of the penguin’s population.
Scientists believe almost two-thirds of the decline is the result of human interaction. Not only can penguins get caught in fishing nets, but their habit is constantly under threat from human development and they are regularly found poisoned by different toxins.
“The problem is that we lack data to examine the extent of human impacts, ranging from fisheries interactions, introduced predators to human disturbance, all of which contribute to the penguins’ demise,” said lead author Thomas Mattern, a researcher at the University of Otago, in a statement. “However, considering that climate change explains only around a third of the variation in penguin numbers, clearly those other factors play a significant role. Unlike climate change, these factors could be managed on a regional scale.”
The team believes that if this trend continues the species will not last much longer. Current estimates show that the penguins’ breeding success will continue to decline to extinction by 2060, UPI reports. The results outlined in the report are based on more than 35 years of penguin monitoring data.
Conservationists believe not enough is being done to support and protect the animals. Researchers hope the recent study will help spur new efforts and lead the way to protect the birds. The animals are one of the most iconic symbols of New Zealand, and they can be saved only if action is taken sooner rather than later.
“Now we all know that yellow-eyed penguins are quietly slipping away we need to make a choice,” the authors conclude in the study. “Without immediate, bold and effective conservation measures we will lose these penguins from our coasts within our lifetime.”