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Giant guano outcroppings win protection as bird habitat in Peru

The Peruvian government has moved to protect 33 guano sites—both islands and peninsulas—as well as surrounding waters in a bid to save declining bird populations.

Millions of birds nest on these guano sites every year, including endangered species such as the Peruvian Diving-petrel and the Humboldt Penguin. The protections, which were first proposed in 2001, cover 350,000 acres.

“One hundred years from now, we may look back at this as a ‘sea change’ in the political role of the environment in South America. The key will be the extent to which this decision gets fully developed, implemented and enforced,” said Dr. Patricia Majluf in a press release. Majluf is the Director of the Center for Environmental Sustainability at Peru’s Cayetano Heredia University and provided the long-term impetus for this initiative.

Birds are attracted to these sites due to the Humboldt Current, which feeds one of the world’s most productive marine areas. This nutrient bonanza also makes the area rich in seals, sea lions, and marine sea turtles.

Oddly enough the thousands of acres steeped deep in guano once fed Peru’s economy, since bird droppings were highly sought-after organic fertilizer. However, the rise of chemical fertilizers caused this guano market to crash.

Today bird populations have declined due to introduced predators, human harvesting of birds, and the overfishing of their primary food source: the Peruvian anchovy. Peruvian anchovies are ground-up into fishmeal, which is primarily used to feed aquaculture fish.

“American Bird Conservancy is hopeful that this new declaration has the teeth of regulation and enforcement to support and protect important, and in some cases, endangered seabird populations,” said Dr. Jessica Hardesty Norris, Seabird Program Director for American Bird Conservancy.

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