Over 18,000 pairs of Adélie penguins from a colony in Terre Adélie, Antarctica, have suffered a devastating breeding failure.
Just two chicks survived out of tens of thousands of tiny baby Adélie penguins in the colony. The remaining penguins all starved to death as the adverse weather forced their parents to venture further a field to find food. This disaster acts as a constant reminder of the harrowing effects of our changing climate.
And what’s more, just a few years ago, back in 2013, the colony suffered the same fate and the population faced almost near annihilation. Not a single chick survived from the 20,196 pairs of penguins.
During this time there was an unseasonably large amount of sea ice. When you combine this with a lot of warm weather and rain followed by a rapid drop in temperature the saturated penguins froze to death.
Rod Downie, head of polar programs at WWF, said:
“Adélie penguins are one of the hardiest and most amazing animals on our planet. This devastating event contrasts with the Disney 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 area is at risk of being opened to exploratory krill fisheries, which would directly compete with the Adélie penguins for food.
As the colony recovers from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, this is absolutely unthinkable if numbers are to rise. 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.
Yan Ropert-Coudert, who leads the penguin program at the research station next to the colony, added:
“The region is impacted by environmental changes that are linked to the breakup of the Mertz glacier since 2010. 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.”
Antarctic wildlife is under an immense amount of stress and pressure, demonstrated by the two colony collapses in a 4-year span. The harsh effects of over-fishing, deep-sea mining, oil extraction and plastic pollution are showing that humans are destroying the sea and wildlife that lives there.
On this planet, we are all guardians of the environment and together we must unite to protect it because our fate and the fate of our oceans are deeply connected.
World governments have agreed to start a process to protect environment via an ocean treaty – although this probably won’t be agreed until at least 2020.
For now, a 1.5 million sq km area of conservation area is protected in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic and governments around the world are discussing the future of the continent and its surrounding waters.
If all goes well, the largest ever protected area on Earth will have been created, signalling a new Antarctic Ocean sanctuary. This area would be five times the size of Germany and include the Weddell Sea next to the Antarctic peninsula.