UW News

October 8, 2018

Awards to UW affiliate professor recognize career of conservation and research on penguins

UW News

Travel is usually a major part of Pablo García Borboroglu‘s life. As a scientist and advocate for penguin conservation around the globe, Borboroglu often shuttles between penguin nesting sites, labs and government offices.

But this spring and summer, Borboroglu — who is president of the Global Penguin Society and a University of Washington affiliate associate professor of biology — worked in trips to Europe and the United States to receive two separate awards for his career in penguin research and advocacy.

two people standing on a stage

Pablo García Borboroglu receiving the Whitley Gold Award from Princess Anne during an April ceremony at the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society in London.Whitley Fund for Nature

In April, Borboroglu was in London at the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society to receive the Whitley Gold Award, also known as the “Green Oscar,” from the Whitley Fund for Nature. Princess Anne, daughter of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, presented Borboroglu with the award, which includes 60,000 British pounds in project funding. This fall, citing his Whitley Gold Award and other accolades, the Chamber of Deputies of the Argentine National Congress issued a declaration in his honor.

In June, Borboroglu traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive a National Geographic/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation from the National Geographic Society, which includes a $25,000 prize.

“Both ceremonies were incredible,” said Borboroglu. “It was great to be allowed to increase the visibility of the conservation problems that penguins and the oceans are facing — and how the Global Penguin Society is addressing them worldwide.”

For nearly three decades, Borboroglu has been involved in studies of penguins and conservation efforts for these Southern Hemisphere, flightless birds. Through the Global Penguin Society, he promotes protections for all 18 penguin species — more than half of which are threatened, according to Borboroglu. He directs these endeavors from his native Argentina, where he is also a permanent researcher with the National Research Council of Argentina.

Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo.

Savoring the victory? Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo.Dee Boersma

“Penguins are great indicators of the health of our oceans and coasts,” said Borboroglu, who became a UW affiliate faculty member in 2009. “In the ocean, they are affected by climate change, marine pollution and fishing activity; on land, human disturbance and the introduction of predators reduce their breeding success.”

“Through science, management and education, we address these threats at a small scale where penguins nest and at larger scales where they swim hundreds of kilometers to feed and migrate,” he added.

Through the Global Penguin Society, Borboroglu advocates for the establishment of protected areas for penguins to nest and feed — as well as educational trips for students to penguin habitats. He led efforts to establish the Patagonia Azul Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO preserve encompassing more than 3 million hectares established in 2015, which Borboroglu considers the proudest moment of his career to date. The reserve encompasses the most biodiverse stretch of Argentine coastline, including Punta Tombo, home to one of the world’s largest nesting sites for Magellanic penguins. He also spearheaded efforts to establish a marine protected area off the coast of Punta Tombo.

Boersma and Borboroglu at Punta Tombo.

Boersma and Borboroglu at Punta Tombo.Dee Boersma

Borboroglu’s work, particularly with Magellanic penguins, has made him a frequent collaborator with P. Dee Boersma, a UW professor of biology and leader in penguin conservation efforts through the UW-based Center for Ecosystem Sentinels. Boersma has studied Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo for decades, collecting data on population size, nesting, breeding, chick survival and adult health.

Borboroglu’s primary research goal is to understand how and why penguins shift nesting and feeding sites. Over the past two years his group has surveyed 34 Magellanic penguin colonies across northern Patagonia. His data indicate that Magellanic penguins may be shifting their distribution northward. This move may be due to oceanographic conditions or human activities, Borboroglu said.

Though he studies penguins, changing human behavior is one of his major goals as a conservationist.

“In 1920, when my grandmother would visit penguins, the world had less than 2 billion people,” Borboroglu said. “Now, the global population is around 7.5 billion human beings. It is clear that we must learn to coexist with wildlife, especially since 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity exists outside of protected areas. As researchers and conservationists, our challenge is to develop a conservation culture with a wiser and more sustainable relationship with nature.”