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Penguin discovery, climate inequality, tortoise heroes: 3 stories you may have missed

© Cristina Mittermeier

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Climate change: Satellites find new colonies of Emperor penguins 

New data shows that global Emperor penguin populations are higher than previously thought. 

The Story: Using satellite imagery, researchers discovered 11 new Emperor penguin breeding sites in Antarctica — totaling nearly 278,500 breeding pairs, reported Jonathan Amos for BBC. This discovery indicates that global Emperor penguin populations are 5 to 10 percent higher than previously thought. The satellite used to track these penguin populations from space has an extremely high resolution, enabling researchers to zoom in and spot smaller penguin colonies that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. 

The Big Picture: "It's good news because there are now more penguins than we thought," said penguin specialist Peter Fretwell. "But this story comes with a strong caveat because the newly discovered sites are not in what we call the refugia — areas with stable sea-ice. They are all in more northerly, vulnerable locations that will likely lose their sea-ice.” As the only penguin species that breeds on sea ice rather than land, Emperor penguins are particularly threatened by melting sea ice driven by climate change. As ocean temperatures continue to rise due to climate breakdown, the sea ice at breeding sites may begin to form too late or melt too early in the season, endangering an entire colony — especially the infant penguins that are not yet prepared to swim and face higher drowning risks.  

Read more here

Rising global temperatures pose a severe threat to marginalized populations around the world. 

The Story: Fueled by climate change, record-breaking heat waves are disproportionately impacting poor and marginalized people of color, reported Somini Sengupta for the New York Times. According to a recent study, periods of extreme heat at temperatures unhealthy for humans have more than doubled since 1979, primarily affecting countries in South Asia and communities along the Gulf Coast of the United States. In other countries such as Guatemala and Nigeria, extremely hot weather and severe droughts have degraded farmlands, threatening the food security and livelihoods of millions. 

The Big Picture: According to recent research, more than one-third of the global population could live in areas where the mean annual temperature is above 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2070. That figure is roughly 10 to 13 degrees Celsius (18 to 23 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than current average temperatures, conditions experts agree will be “unsuitably hot” for humans. To prevent this — and to mitigate the extreme heat that many populations are already facing — countries and businesses must rapidly reduce carbon emissions to slow climate breakdown, while providing resources such as fresh water and cooling centers to communities impacted by heat waves. 

Read more here.

A captive breeding program successfully repopulated the iconic giant tortoises of the Galápagos Islands.

The Story: After 55 years in a captive breeding program on Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos, 15 giant tortoises were released into the wild on their home island of Española, reported Megan Marples for CNN. Over the course of the Española captive breeding program — which ended in June — nearly 1,900 tortoises were bred and introduced to the wild, where they have continued to reproduce naturally. Of the 15 giant tortoises in the program, one male tortoise contributed approximately 40 percent of the offspring that have repopulated Española island. 

The Big Picture: At the start of the breeding program in the mid-1960s, the original 15 giant tortoises were the only members of their species left on Española Island. Now, more than 2,000 tortoises roam the island, and are crucial to the health of the ecosystem because they help to disperse seeds and restore the island’s native plants. Regarded as one of the most successful captive reproduction and breeding programs in the world, the Española program shows that intensive conservation initiatives can effectively restore wildlife populations if they have proper funding and adequate staff. 

Read more here.


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.