Scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation have been taking the census of penguins on Isabela Island and they’re concerned about the decline of the population to about 1,000 birds.
They blame global climate change for the problem–pumping up the weather pattern known as “El Niño” that warms Pacific Ocean waters and lessens the food supply for Galápagos wildlife.
“The problem is that climate change is making El Niño more frequent,” said Gustavo Jiménez of the Darwin Foundation, adding, “it’s making El Niño stronger than it used to be.”
A 2010 study by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash. found that since 1982 the intensity of El Niños in the central Pacific, based upon sea surface temperatures, has nearly doubled. These scientists forecast that conditions will continue to intensify.
Galapágos boasts the only penguins in the Northern Hemisphere. Given the El Niño forecasts, keeping the penguins from becoming extinct is a major concern of the Darwin Foundation.
The islands are a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. But scientists estimate that one in five native plants as well as nearly 50 percent of the archipelago’s endemic wildlife are under threat from climate change.