In his native Argentina, Pablo Garcia Borboroglu always wanted to be able to work in penguin conservation. ‘I was a conservationist, and I was interested in penguins before I became a researcher,’ he recalls. ‘In fact, I went to the university to be able to help penguins better, to be trained to do something more effective.’ Later becoming a qualified marine biologist, Borboroglu was awarded a Whitley Award in 2010 in recognition of his vital work protecting penguin habitats in remote Patagonia, including the creation of UNESCO’s Patagonia Biosphere Reserve. Furthermore, he had just created the Global Penguin Society (GPS), the world’s first global coalition for the protection of penguins.
Eight years later, Borboroglu found himself back at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) headquarters, for the 2018 Whitley Awards ceremony. This time to pick up the prestigious Whitley Gold Award from HRH The Princess Royal, along with a £60,000 grant to recognise his efforts in growing the GPS to help protect penguins around the world. ‘It’s official – penguins are the mission of my life!’ he announced while collecting his award. ‘I admire penguins because they’re loyal, they’re brave, and they’re determined. They can also be tough, but they need our help to cope with the main threats caused by humans.’
Indeed, over half of the world’s 18 species of penguin are now threatened with extinction. Penguins are threatened around the world by climate change, oil pollution, poor fisheries management, and the introduction of land predators. Their unique lifestyles make them particularly vulnerable since they need to access both the land and the sea in order to survive, while their lack of flight makes it very hard to chase after migrating food stocks in the way other seabirds can. ‘People love penguins, but they do not know about their fragile conservation status,’ commented Borboroglu. ‘Increasing awareness is crucial to help not only penguins but also the oceans on which we, and they, rely.’
The Gold Award will enable Borboroglu to further expand his operations, including data collection on threatened Magellanic, King and Fjordland penguins and in Argentina, Chile and New Zealand. The creation of new marine protected areas will also be on the agenda, as well as identifying potential penguin feeding corridors, scaling up school visits to penguin colonies, and developing a global conservation agenda to identify and address emerging threats such as plastic pollution and climate change.
‘We cannot change the behaviour of the animals, so our job is to change the behaviour of people,’ he insists. ‘If we reduce the garbage we produce, don’t use things like single-use plastics, don’t waste our resources and respect nature – that can make a big difference. I believe a lot in individual responsibility; it’s not always about the government. It’s us.’
The 2018 ceremony also marked the 25th anniversary of the Whitley Awards, during which a further six individuals were recognised for their remarkable conservation efforts, and awarded a £40,000 grant accordingly. The winners were:
- Dominique Bikaba (DRC) – for ensuring the survival of DRC’s eastern lowland gorillas
- Kerstin Forsberg (Peru and Ecuador) – for providing safe passage for manta rays
- Olivier Nsengimana (Rwanda) – for conserving Rwanda’s emblematic grey crowned crane
- Shahriar Caesar Rahman (Bangladesh) – for stimulating community conservation of Asia’s largest tortoise
- Munir Virani (Kenya) – for developing a strategy to save Kenya’s threatened vultures
- Anjali Chandraraj Watson (Sri Lanka) – for recognising leopards as a flagship for wildlife corridors
‘Over the last 25 years it has been wonderful to celebrate and help to magnify the success of our winners,’ reflected Edward Whitley, founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN). ‘Their work is rooted in local communities, but the ramifications of their success spread far and wide. It is so inspiring for us and our donors to be involved with these leaders who are dynamic and visionary.’ The past 25 years has seen nearly £15million be awarded by the WFN to over 190 people across more than 80 countries.
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