save a species
Humboldt penguins do not live in the Antarctic, but inhabit temperate regions of the planet, being able to resist even the suffocating heat of summer. Recent studies have shown that instead of icy waters, these birds need seas with an almost constant temperature, with annual variations not exceeding 5°C. Humboldt penguins can be found along the coasts of Peru and Chile, and live at temperatures between -3°C and +24°C. They mainly eat molluscs, sardines and krill. When hunting, they do not dive deeper than 30 metres, and they always stay together in groups. They reach sexual maturity at an age between 2 and 7 years, and usually they form couples that stay together for the rest of their lives. They normally lay two eggs that are incubated for 42 days by both parents.
Status of population
Vulnerable, on the decline. IUCN Red List data.
Factors determining their status
Extreme environmental degradation, limited fish stocks, guano harvesting, chronic oil pollution, tourism and climate change seriously threaten the natural habitat of these penguins. South America
Places and environments to be protected
At Punta San Juan in Peru there are rising upwell currents extremely rich in nutrients that guarantee a fertile environment for the main source of food for penguins. This is the reason that the Humboldt penguin and many other marine birds have chosen this location for many centuries as a reproduction site. Their constant presence has created some of the world’s richest deposits of guano, formed by the accumulation of bird droppings. Guano forms a soft surface in which Humboldt penguins can dig their nests for breeding. This is why about half of the entire Peruvian population of Humboldt penguins have adopted Punta San Juan as their home.
Uncontrolled and excessive fishing operations and the harvesting of guano for use as a fertilizer have caused a significant reduction of the population of Humboldt penguins over the last 20–30 years. Today, the Humboldt penguin is described as being “at risk of extinction” by the IUCN Red List.
To facilitate the designation of Punta San Juan as a protected marine reserve, ensuring the future of the Humboldt penguin in this strikingly beautiful environment.
What can we do?
We can economically support organizations actively working to protect Humboldt penguins.
It’s not easy being a Humboldt penguin. These birds must face a series of natural risks and threats created by human activities to be able to survive. For example, at sea there are several predators, like leopard seals, sea lions, sharks and killer whales. There are also hazards on land, as their eggs and chicks can fall prey to foxes and snakes, or even cats and dogs. In addition, they are strongly disadvantaged by competition for food with humans. Their habitats are also seriously threatened by guano harvesting, tourism and pollution.
In Peru, for countless centuries Humboldt penguins have used natural deposits of guano as their nesting grounds. The presence of this substrate so important for their habitat has been drastically reduced by massive harvesting by humans, seriously threatening their population growth.
At a moment when the number of Humboldt penguins is declining, many people are working to reverse the trend.
The Saint Louis Zoo in America is guiding conservation projects for Humboldt penguins in Peru. Member and researchers from the zoo have participated in six-monthly campaigns to protect Humboldt penguins at Punta San Juan, also acting as international observers for the first sustainable guano harvest in one of the most active penguin nesting colonies.
The WildCare Institute supports research personnel at Punta San Juan, and is working to have the site designated as a protected marine reserve.
Follow the results of the 2010 campaign for the protection of Humboldt penguins
The SAVE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES project makes an active contribution to the protection of Humboldt penguins at Punta San Juan, collaborating with other projects to support the WildCare Institute promoted by the Saint Louis Zoo by donating part of the proceeds obtained from sales of a special soft toy. The Saint Louis Zoo has sent observers to help monitor the first sustainable guano harvest in the area assigned to them, and serves as a coordinator to unite the efforts of other organizations working to collect funds to make a concrete contribution in the conservation of these birds.
Sharks and their close relatives, the rays, are particularly susceptible to overfishing, since they are animals with a slow growth rate, reaching sexual maturity very late and having low fertility. They first appeared on our planet 400 million years ago, but today are at risk of extinction due to human activities.
Status of population in the Mediterranean
“The main worry is not so much for single species, even though they may be very important, but is for the overall impact of this serious loss of biodiversity,” declares Annabelle Cuttelod, the Mediterranean Red List Coordinator at the Mediterranean IUCN Cooperation Centre.
Factors determining their status
The European Union (EU) is a significant consumer and trader for sharks. In 2004, EU countries imported over 26,000 tonnes of shark meat, almost 30% of the world’s imports. In the same year, European countries exported more than 40,000 tonnes of shark meat, fins and other products, only slightly less than 40% of worldwide exports.
Europe has some of the world’s most important countries for shark fishing. European countries, and above all Spain, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom, catch about 100,000 tonnes of shark meat every year. European boats fish throughout the world. Italy is Europe’s largest fisher of sharks in the Mediterranean. In 2004, recorded shark catches exceeded 1000 tonnes.
Italy is one of the biggest importers of sharks. In 2005 it occupied third place at a worldwide level. These imports consist mainly in fresh or frozen shark meat.
The practice of “finning”, which consists in cutting off the fins of a shark and then abandoning the animal in the sea, is prohibited for all European fishing boats and in all waters. The application of this prohibition is however not strongly enforced, as there are many loopholes in the regulations.
Places and environments to be protected
The figures are official: 42% of the shark and ray species of the Mediterranean are at risk of extinction. This is the world’s highest percentage compared with the other regions considered. Despite these statistics and the approval of the UNEP Action Plan for the Conservation of Cartilaginous Fishes, most sharks in the Mediterranean are not protected against overfishing.
European regulations on finning are currently considered to be amongst the most ineffectual in the world, and have loopholes that prevent their application, thereby giving fishermen the possibility of cutting fins (for an estimated two sharks out of three) without being discovered or punished. The simplest way of enforcing the ban on finning is to require that sharks are landed with the fins still attached. The activation of the new EU action plan for sharks and effective enforcement of the finning ban could improve this situation. Unlike some other European countries, Italy has adopted no national protective measures to safeguard sharks. There are no European or international limits on catching blue sharks, mako sharks, common threshers, lesser-spotted dogfishes, common smooth-hounds, nursehounds, bluntnose sixgill sharks or sandbar sharks.
What can we do?
Cattolica Aquarium has campaigned against finning since 2003. Today, with its SAVE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES project, it aims to actively contribute in protecting Mediterranean sharks by means of a public awareness campaign and a collection of signatures to be consigned to parliament members.
La Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta, Linnaeus, 1758) is the Mediterranean’s most common marine turtle. The survival of the species is seriously threatened throughout the entire Mediterranean basin, and by now it is nearing extinction in Italian territorial waters. As yet, little is known about this turtle, as is the case with most marine turtle in general.
They are animals perfectly adapted to aquatic life due to the elongated form of their body covered by a robust shell and the presence of limbs that have evolved into “fins”. When born they are about 5 cm long, and adults can reach lengths of 80–140 cm, with weights varying between 100 and 160 kg.
Like all reptiles, these turtles are coldblooded, which leads them to prefer temperate waters. They breathe air and have lungs, but are able to make very long dives without surfacing. They spend most of their lives in the deep sea, returning occasionally to the surface for air.
In water they can reach speeds of over 35 km/h, swimming with agility thanks to the characteristic synchronized movement of their front limbs.
They are omnivorous creatures, feeding on molluscs, crustaceans, gastropods, echinoderms, fishes and jellyfish, but their stomachs have been found to contain many other objects, like plastic bags, probably mistaken for jellyfish, corks, condoms, dolls, keyrings, buttons, pens, cutlery and other plastic articles.
In summer, in the months of June, July and August, males and females meet in breeding areas, offshore from the beaches where the adults probably hatched.
These turtles in fact have an exceptional capacity to find the beach where they were born, after migrations in which they swim for many thousands of kilometres. Some studies have shown that young turtles, just after hatching, are capable of memorizing the terrestrial coordinates of the nest, using magnetism, pheromones and other environmental characteristics, giving them an imprinting of their place of birth.
It is essential for newly-hatched turtles to reach the sea by themselves, without contacts with humans, to avoid losing the memory of the location of the nest to which they must return, about 25 years later, to breed.
Status of population
Vulnerable. IUCN Red List data.
Factors determining their status
According to FAO data, every year up to 60,000 marine turtles are caught unintentionally in the Mediterranean during fishing activities. Of these, 10,000 are caught in Italian waters, with a mortality rate for the animals of between 10% and 15%. Every fishing boat can accidentally catch up to twenty turtles in a single fishing trip. There are also other hazards that threaten the life of Caretta caretta marine turtles, the most widespread species in the Mediterranean, including intense nautical traffic, tourism activities on the beaches where eggs are laid, coastal erosion and marine pollution.
Places and environments to be protected The main nesting areas in the Mediterranean
Nesting areas in the Mediterranean for this species by now are extremely limited due to human disturbance caused by seaside tourism.
The main nesting grounds in Italy are:
* the Pozzolana di Ponente beach on the island of Linosa
* the beach of the Isola dei Conigli island off Lampedusa
* the Spropoli beach at Palizzi in the province of Reggio Calabria
* the Vendicari wildlife oasis, Cittadella area, near Noto, with a beach of about 800 metres, an area protected and conserved by the Regional Forestry Commission
Nesting outside these breeding areas usually regards turtles laying eggs for the first time or not in perfect health, overcome by the currents and forced to nest in places far from their natural reproduction zones. In these cases, almost all the eggs are lost for various reasons, such as failure to be fertilized, imperfectly formed eggs, and above all due to environmental factors linked to climate and ground conditions.
To inform and raise the awareness of the general public on the situation of these turtles, drawing attention to the factors threatening them. To take concrete action by means of conservation and the rescue of animals in difficulty.
The role of Cattolica Aquarium
As a result of the close collaboration between the aquariums of Cattolica and Genoa, in 2009 it was decided to strengthen links with the “Anton Dohrn” Zoological Station of Naples. This important joint project has led to the creation of the Turtle Nursery as a place where young sea turtles can be cared for during the most vulnerable phases of their life. The Turtle Nursery is a protected environment that can offer one or more young turtles a period of convalescence before being returned to their natural habitat. The nursery’s guests are young examples of Caretta caretta, a species with a cosmopolitan distribution that is common on all Mediterranean coasts. Once they have been recovered and treated in Naples, the young turtles are cared for in Cattolica Aquarium’s new Turtle Nursery, where the aquarium staff monitor all the variations in weight and size of the various turtles until they can be guaranteed to be in perfect condition for their return to the open sea.
With its experience and skills, Cattolica Aquarium is contributing in the important task of protecting these marine reptiles in which the Naples Zoological Station has already been brilliantly engaged for many years.
After three years of work, interesting results have been achieved. Thanks to the investments made by Cattolica Aquarium and the new nursery, improvements have been noted in the time needed by the young turtles cared for to recover, with faster rates of growth compared with conventional holding and monitoring tanks. Much remains to be done to allow the Naples Zoological Station to be able to invest in new structures and host the greatest possible number of turtles, allowing them to be returned to the sea in the safest possible way to permit their survival.
What can we do?
We can economically support organizations actively working to protect Caretta caretta turtles.
The Turtle Point is an important centre for scientific communication and the raising of awareness on environmental issues. It is a separate section of the “Anton Dohrn” Zoological Station of Naples, specializing in the care and rehabilitation of marine turtles in distress as a result of human activities. The facility occupies an area of over 600 square metres.
The Turtle Point was opened in 2004 to care for the growing number of animals taken in by the Rescue Centre of the station’s aquarium, and can accommodate up to 40 turtles in rehabilitation tanks supplied with a closed seawater circuit.
The facility also has a marine aquarium with Mediterranean flora and fauna, a pool for wetland turtles, a small museum, a display of photographs about the sea, and a laboratory with equipment for analyses and routine treatments.
The marine turtles treated at the aquarium’s Rescue Centre requiring a period of convalescence are transferred to the Turtle Point before being released into freedom. During their stay, the animals are kept under constant observation to ensure that they have recovered their capacity to swim, hold their breath underwater and regulate their buoyancy according to their depth.
At the same time their variations in weight and size are monitored, together with their eating habits and blood analysis values. Many studies focusing on the biology, physiology and ecology of these marine reptiles are also carried out. Of particular interest and importance are the research activities that use new technologies like satellite transmitters and microcomputers to shed new light on aspects of the life of these animals about which little is currently known.