The Stream

Why are king penguins being decimated?

In an environmental special, we also talk about why 2018 may be the hottest year on record and why some cities are closer to sinking than you think.

King penguins
A study of the world’s largest colony of king penguins has found that their population declined by 88 percent over the last 35 years – from 2 million to less than 200,000. The majestic birds live on the Ile aux Cochons island, halfway between the tip of Africa and Antarctica. There are a number of theories on why their numbers have been dwindling – feral cats and mice among them – but climate change is also a major possibility.

The decline likely began around 1997, according to, when a major El Niño temporarily warmed the southern Indian Ocean, killing off or displacing the fish and squid the penguins rely on. The species does not fly or migrate, so they found themselves stuck on their foodless island. El Niños typically come in 2-7 year cycles but can be amplified by global warming, which make the cycles last longer.

King penguins aren’t an endangered species. Yet.

But what does so many dying mean for the future, and what does it say about the health of our oceans?

Sinking cities
Some of the world’s largest metropolises are facing a future of being washed away as sea levels rise.

Jakarta, Indonesia, is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, and researchers say that, if left unchecked, parts of it could be fully submerged by 2050. The sprawling megacity is home to more than 10 million people. Right now, it is sinking at an average rate of 1.5 cm per year and almost half of its area sits below sea level.

So what’s making Jakarta, and other major cities, sink? Most experts agree that climate change is a leading cause with polar ice caps are melting and causing sea levels to increase. We’ll take a look at the world’s sinking cities, and ask what can be done to prevent their destruction.

Global heatwave
The summer of 2018 is on track to be among the hottest on earth. Wildfires burned across Europe and in the US state of California more than ten thousand firefighters are battling massive flames. In Japan “unprecedented levels of heat” have claimed more than 60 lives. And, in Death Valley California, a record was set for the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, with 21 days over 120 degrees.

A study published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that the world is at risk of entering “hothouse” conditions and global average temperatures will be 4-5 degrees Celsius higher than average, even if emotions reduction targets are met. This would lead to melting ice caps, higher sea levels and extreme flooding likely to impact the lives of billions.

We’ll take a look at what, if anything can be done to normalise temperatures, and why the summer of 2018 might be indicative of what’s to come.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Annie Schmidt @ae_schmidty
Antarctica Program Leader, Point Blue Conservation Science

Michelle LaRue @drmichellelarue

Victor Coenen @WitteveenBos
Project Manager, Jakarta Coastal Defense Strategy Master Plan

Jeff Goodell @jeffgoodell
Author, The Water Will Come

Rob McElwee @WeathermacAJE
Weather presenter, Al Jazeera


Read more:
Earth at risk of tipping into hellish ‘hothouse’ conditions – Al Jazeera 
World’s largest king penguin colony declines by almost 90 percent – Al Jazeera

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