The story of the fight for penguins of the biologist who won the ‘Nobel’ for animal conservation

This week, the news brought a new example of a classic: an Argentine, a CONICET researcher specializing in environmental conservation issues, has just received one of the most global awards privileged in the world of ecology: the biologist pablo borborogluspecialized in the study of penguins and the coastal environment of Argentina and other beaches in the region, was distinguished in London, with the prize Indianapolis 2023.

This award -given by the Indianapolis Zoological Society– consists of a medal and a check for US$ 250 thousand that the winner will invest in conservation projects.

Who is the new recipient of the award that is considered equivalent to a ‘Nobel‘ in the world of conservation and sustainability? He is a descendant of Greek immigrants, settled in Chubut since the beginning of the 20th century, which is currently conicet researcher at cenpatInstitute that works in the city of Puerto Madryn.

Borboroglu completed his undergraduate studies at the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia, obtained his doctorate at the Universidad del Comahue and later traveled to the US to specialize in institutions such as Duke University.

Now Borboroglu received the 2023 Indianapolis Award –it is worth remembering, it is the first time that a Latin American scientist has won it–, in recognition of his career of more than three decades of work that led him to become today one of the highest global references in the field of penguin ecology and in the conservation of their territories and habitats, both terrestrial and marine.

In interview with PROFILE, Borboroglu recalled how his vocation was born: “As a child, my grandmother used to tell me what the coastal penguin colonies she visited on horseback were like.” Years later, in the 1980s, penguins continued to exist, but with their future threatened: “At that time, around 40,000 penguins died per year due to oil spills in Chubut”, something that evidently marked that teenager and led him to his environmental vocation. In fact, he participated as a volunteer in missions that sought to “unoil” contaminated animals.

His scientific and environmental work grew, and his proposals, together with those of some NGOs, achieved a concrete result: that the usual course of the ships would be far enough from the Patagonian coasts to significantly reduce the contamination of the beaches. south due to fuel spills. “Currently, for this reason, barely twenty penguins die every year”the specialist is proud.

Many years later, in 2009, the already scientific Borboroglu founded the world penguin society (GPS), an environmental entity that has granted various environmental protection statuses for a geographical area that encompasses around 13 million hectares of marine and terrestrial habitat where penguins and other coastal species can live in peace.

As the winner explained to PROFILE In an online interview from London, after receiving this recognized distinction, “GPS is an international organization dedicated to protecting, throughout the world, the specimens of the 18 identified penguin species that exist on our planet today” . And he added that: “Almost half of those species (nine) are today characterized as “threatened” by extinction.

Addressing this problem is not a mere whim. “Closely monitoring the conservation status of penguins is something cluebecause it is an indicator that reflects very well the worrying state of general ‘environmental health’ of the oceans”.

between the threats Hanging over these animals are those of the sea as well as those of the land, their two habitats. In the former, poor commercial fishing practices and environmental pollution hang over them. On land, they are attacked by human disturbance and the introduction of certain exotic predatory species against which the species did not develop, evolutionarily, defense strategies. And, of course, in recent years, climate change is diminishing for some species, which accelerates the melting of the ice and is moving away their basic food from their nests.

The penguins are especially sensitive animals to environmental threats: they are unable to fly to escape, they only lay one or two eggs per reproductive period, and some couples can spend up to 15 months of their lives caring for their chicks.

One of the examples of the success of his conservation ideas is located in the the pedral colony, on the Argentine coast. When he arrived, there were only six breeding pairs. After achieving the status of the area as a “wildlife refuge” and reducing the impact of human activity in the region, the colony grew and currently houses four thousand reproductives.


Borboroglu and his team have invested time and effort in education: their specific program has, so far, reached 200,000 students from various countries with educational materials on ecology. In fact, they have collaborated creating specific games and content, as well as making alive online from animal colonies for various multinational companies, such as Disney either National Geographic. These companies then disseminate that material through their global platforms.

In any case, Borboroglu assures that among the most effective actions that his NGO organizes on a regular basis are the “field visits” that, until now, materialized with some seven thousand boys residing in surrounding areas to penguin colonies. They have also prepared brochures and books on conservation issues that are distributed free of charge in educational institutions.

Offshore oil and wildlife

The expert also had time to express his opinion on the strong local debate about whether or not to allow oil exploration and exploitation. offshore in the Argentine Sea. In this sense, he was categorical: he told PROFILE: “What I think about oil development on the Argentine platform is that, really, I find it somewhat insane. First, because not only the exploration itself and the seismic explosions that are used generate a tremendous acoustic impact that can cause mortality of the animals that are nearby, but also the protocols established for their “protection” are a farce. , since they are impracticable and unfeasible”.

On the other hand, at a conceptual level it is also a situation wrong. “In a world like today, with the advance of the global warming process and with the demands of a better environment to try to reduce the combustion of fossil fuels, doing this really is crazy: producing oil to burn the atmosphere, while They are setting fire to the forests of Argentina and the world, it does not have any kind of alignment with any environmental agenda of the current world”.

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