Oct 212017
 


A colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica has suffered a “catastrophic breeding event” – all but two chicks have died of starvation this year. It is the second time in just four years that such devastation – not previously seen in more than 50 years of observation – has been wrought on the population.

The finding has prompted urgent calls for the establishment of a marine protected area in East Antarctica, at next week’s meeting of 24 nations and the European Union at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart.

In the colony of about 18,000 breeding penguin pairs on Petrels Island, French scientists discovered just two surviving chicks at the start of the year. Thousands of starved chicks and unhatched eggs were found across the island in the region called Adélie Land (“Terre Adélie”).

One of the many dead Adélie penguin chicks found on Petrels Island in the Antarctica. Photograph: Y Ropert-Coudert/CNRS/IPEV

The colony had experienced a similar event in 2013, when no chicks survived. In a paper about that event, a group of researchers, led by Yan Ropert-Coudert from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, said it had been caused by a record amount of summer sea ice and an “unprecedented rainy episode”.

The unusual extent of sea ice meant the penguins had to travel an extra 100km to forage for food. And the rainy weather left the chicks, which have poor waterproofing, wet and unable to keep warm.

This year’s event has also been attributed to an unusually large amount of sea ice. Overall, Antarctica has had a record low amount of summer sea ice, but the area around the colony has been an exception.

Ropert-Coudert said the region had been severely affected by the break-up of the Mertz glacier tongue in 2010, when a piece of ice almost the size of Luxembourg – about 80 km long and 40km wide – broke off. That event, which occurred about 250km from Petrels Island, had a big impact on ocean currents and ice formation in the region.

Thousands of dead chicks and unhatched eggs were found across the region called Adélie Land. Photograph: Y Ropert-Coudert/CNRS/IPEV

“The Mertz glacier impact on the region sets the scene in 2010 and when unusual meteorological events, driven by large climatic variations, hit in some years this leads to massive failures,” Ropert-Coudert told the Guardian. “In other words, there may still be years when the breeding will be OK, or even good for this colony, but the scene is set for massive impacts to hit on a more or less regular basis.”

The link between climate change and the sea-ice extent around Antarctica is not very clear. Sea ice has been increasing in recent years, which could be attributed to a rise in the amount of freshwater in the ocean around the continent caused by climate change. However, over the long term, climate change is expected to cause the sea ice to shrink dramatically.

“For the moment, sea ice is increasing and this is a problem for this species as it pushes the feeding place – the sea ice edge – farther away from their nesting place,” Ropert-Coudert said. “If it shrinks it would help but if it shrinks too much then the food chain they rely on may be impacted. Basically, as a creature of the sea ice they need an optimum sea-ice cover to thrive.”

Elsewhere, human pressures including climate change have already been having a severe impact on the numbers of Adélie penguins. On the Antarctic Peninsula, which has been badly affected by climate change, populations have been decreasing, and some researchers suggest they may become extinct there.

Ropert-Coudert said there were more anthropogenic threats on the horizon – fishing and possibly tourism – that the penguins needed protection from.

He has called for a marine protected area (MPA) to be established there.

“An MPA will not remedy these changes but it could prevent further impacts that direct anthropogenic pressures, such as tourism and proposed fisheries, could bring,” he said.

Next week, 24 countries and the European Union will meet at the CCAMLR in Hobart to discuss the potential creation of more MPAs around Antarctica.

At last year’s meeting, after years of failed negotiations, the members agreed to create the world’s largest MPA in the Ross Sea, and many expect the group to agree on East Antarctica next.

This has also been proposed by Australia and has been on the table at the CCAMLR for eight years.

The head of polar programs at WWF, Rod Downie, said: “Adélie penguins are one of the hardiest and most amazing animals on our planet. This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins. It’s more like ‘Tarantino does Happy Feet’, with dead penguin chicks strewn across a beach in Adélie Land.

“The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adélie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable. So CCAMLR needs to act now by adopting a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off East Antarctica, to protect the home of the penguins.”

Ropert-Coudert and his colleagues are in the process of completing a scientific paper on the breeding failure and plan to submit it to a journal in the coming weeks.

This article was first published by The Guardian on 13 Oct 2017.

 

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Re: Adélie penguin chick die-off These penguins are consuming inordinate amounts of Wolbachia via their food sources. Notable study quotes: “Prey diversity was found to be greater than previously thought. Krill, fish, copepods and amphipods were the most important food groups … Copepods were a major food item. Co-ingestion analysis indicated that copepods were present in association with fish in the diet more often than with krill, despite krill being consumed more commonly than fish.” Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3864945 All of those consume mosquito larvae. “West Nile virus outbreaks and mortality events have been documented in both wild and captive avian species,… Read more »
Marilyn Leybra

More anthropogenic threats on the horizon for penguins – overfishing, market for krill & possibly tourism affecting penguin food supply. ‘Within 5 yrs., annual krill catch could jump from 100,000 tons to several milllion,’ which will spell disaster for not only chicks but Antarctica adult penguin population. And whales, etc.

Anne Grice

Man so much to answer for. This is tragic, how will they recover from what is happening here?

Delbert Smith

Global warming, eh? More sea ice force the adult to go further….. Now maybe you eco idiots will start paying attention that there is no global warming caused by mankind.

Marilyn Leybra

D Smith, sounds like u didn’t read article fully. In nature undisturbed, there is happy medium, in this case adults are having to travel too far bc of melting glacier over-expanding sea ice & chicks left alone to starve for too long. Other human effects of taking too much fish & krill, leave thinner supply for penguins for which they have spend more time gathering. Effects of mankind’s activities cover a lot of territory affecting other species.

Anne Bourne

Did you see the reason for the increased sea ice? The scientists believe it could be because, due to climate change, the Hertz Glacier is melting at a higher rate and putting more freshwater into sea. And freshwater freezes at a higher temperature than salt water. So more than likely the problem like many others, is caused by global warming.

Linda Badham

OH NO, SO VERY SAD

Marilyn Ashman

Very Heartbreaking 🙁 🙁 🙁

Vanessa Black

Damn…

wpDiscuz

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