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We conducted the annual census to estimate population size of Magellanic penguins in El Pedral, Chubut Province, Argentina. We surveyed the entire colony and counted all the active nests (used by a pair) during the breeding season.
We monitored the distribution and colony occupation pattern. This helps us follow the dynamics of the way the nesting area expands and how the density of nests varies over the years.
We searched for penguins that were banded in other colonies to help us assess the dispersion of breeders from other colonies. We also determined the contribution of breeders that were born in this same colony, looking for birds that we banded when they were chicks.
We marked and followed nests during the breeding season to estimate breeding success. We marked 70 nests at the beginning of the season (October) and followed those nests until February. We collected information to estimate the breeding success, defined as the number of chicks produced alive per nest.
We tracked 15 penguins at sea to determine foraging routes. This is very useful to detect overlaps with humans activities (such as shipping lanes and commercial fishing) and propose conservation actions.
All this information is very useful in 1) improving the management plan at El Pedral, which has started to become a destination for tourism in the last few years – how the area is managed must be adjusted based on the number of human visitors; and 2) justifying the designation of protected areas along the coastal and marine adjacent sector.
The ecotourism operation here allows guests to visit the penguin colony, walk along the beach to observe many coastal birds and mammals species, walk along trails to observe fossils and enjoy great landscapes. Accommodation is available in an historic house, and there are also other excursions available to visit regional attractions such as whale watching navigation.
Our studies provide a base for our conservation actions and adapt local habitat management plans, regulating the numbers of visitors and the dynamics of the tourism operation, and thus providing a model of where ecotourism and conservation can coexist.
Apart from our research, we also organized a massive cleaning campaign to remove garbage from the El Pedral colony and coastline before the penguins arrive to breed. Additionally, we coordinated educational activities to take school kids from the local communities to visit the penguin colony for the first time in their lives.
The World Nomads film crew visited this project and produced a video. Watch it below to learn the complete story about this project, including quotes from visitors, owners and see the penguin colony in action on the Patagonian landscape.