One Million Penguins on Falkland Islands Under Threat Because of Brexit

Monarch penguins at Volunteer Point beach, near Stanley, Falkland Islands, on March 23, 2007. More than one million penguins visit the islands each year. DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Officials on the Falkland Islands have warned that a million penguins are at risk from a funding black hole caused by Britain's exit from the European Union.

The islands rely on European conservation projects to feed and protect the penguin colonies that visit its shores each year. But with the U.K. fast approaching Brexit Day in March 2019, the Falklands trade minister has urged clarity on the future of islands' flippered friends.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Teslyn Barkman said the British government must adopt a "no penguins left behind" strategy to protect the islands' wildlife. Thanks to the Falkland Islands, Britain is responsible for more penguins than any other single nation.

By leaving the EU, the overseas territory will lose access to 1 million euros ($1.16 million) in potential environmental grants from the bloc's Best program and another 5euros million ($5.8 million) from its Life fund.

The money is used to preserve food stocks, monitor penguin populations and treat penguins covered with oil by passing ships. The islands' population of almost 3,400 produces around $118 million in GDP each year, making EU money a vital part of its budget.

Barkman said losing access to the funds would significantly affect the work of the nongovernmental organizations that conduct "critical research and conservation work in the Falklands." The minister added that she had "genuine concerns" that replacement conservation funding promised by U.K. Environment Secretary Michael Gove would not cover the financial shortfall. In addition, Barkman said islanders "are yet to see any firm proposals from the UK on their replacement for Best."

The status of the islands as an overseas British territory already limits its funding options. Because they belong to the U.K., the Falklands do not qualify for international funds. But because they sit more than 8,000 miles from the mainland, they cannot be considered by British funding projects either. The lack of options makes EU grants even more vital.

Many areas of the U.K., whether on the mainland or overseas, are worried about the sudden loss of European money when Britain leaves the bloc. Much of the past decade has been characterized by Conservative Party-led austerity economics nominally designed to reduce the government budget deficit, though it has failed to do so. This has translated into underinvestment in public services and a weakened welfare state.

In this tough environment, EU funding has offered a lifeline to many communities. Losing these benefits alongside the expected economic downturn after leaving the bloc could make public funds even more restricted than before the vote.

Prime Minister Theresa May is still struggling to reach a Brexit deal with the EU. As the deadline for an agreement approaches, fears of a so-called "no deal" Brexit are growing, in which food, fuel and medical supplies could be disrupted, the British pound could tumble and the economy could nosedive.

Islanders are even more at risk from such a scenario than their compatriots on the mainland. According to The Telegraph, ministers believe EU tariffs could cut meat-industry revenue by 30 percent and fishing industry revenue by 16 percent.