Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

This Penguin Colony Has Fallen by 77% on Antarctic Islands

Animals
Greenpeace has partnered with penguin researchers from Stony Brook University and Northeastern University to study the impact of climate change on fragile chinstrap penguin colonies in Antarctica, like this lone penguin pictured on Elephant Island. © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace

The climate crisis is taking a toll on Antarctica's chinstrap penguins.


Scientists on a Greenpeace expedition to Antarctica found that the penguins' numbers were falling, with one colony decreasing by 77 percent in nearly 50 years. This is especially surprising because, up until now, the chinstrap penguin has been considered a species of "least concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), according to CNN.

"Such significant declines suggest that the Southern Ocean's ecosystem is fundamentally changed from 50 years ago, and that the impacts of this are rippling up the food web to species like chinstrap penguins," Expedition co-leader Dr. Heather J. Lynch, an associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. "While several factors may have a role to play, all the evidence we have points to climate change as being responsible for the changes we are seeing."

Researchers from Stony Brook and Northeastern University have been surveying the penguins on Antarctic islands using drones and handheld clickers, according to The Guardian. On Elephant Island, they found that there were only 52,786 breeding pairs, a 58 percent decrease compared to the last survey in 1971. The researchers also noted similar declines on Low and Livingston islands.

"This shows something in the marine ecology is broken, or has drastically changed since the 1970s," scientist and author Noah Strycker told The Guardian.

The researchers found that every colony on Elephant Island had declined, CNN reported. The largest decline was the fall of 77 percent recorded at a colony known as Chinstrap Camp. The reason the scientists think climate change is driving the decline is because the penguins rely on sea ice for their food.

"Penguins, seals and whales all depend on krill, which depends on ice," Stryker, who studies penguins at Stony Brook, told CNN. "So if climate change affects the ice, that impacts on everything else."

The researchers found that the chinstraps' breeding rates had not declined, meaning the threats they faced were harming them after birth, according to The Guardian. They also found that another type of penguin, the gentoo, seemed to be replacing the chinstrap. Gentoos rely less on krill and ice and have been called the "pigeon of the penguin world" for their adaptability and wide diet.

The expedition marks the first time that chinstrap colonies on Low Island have been fully surveyed, according to CNN. The full results of those surveys are not yet available.

But Greenpeace argued that the penguins' evident decline was another reason to protect 30 percent of the world's oceans to help vulnerable species recover. Alongside the research expedition, the advocacy group has been installing disappearing penguin ice sculptures in international cities from London to Washington, DC this week in order to raise awareness of the need for a Global Ocean Treaty.

"We installed a melting penguin sculpture in front of the U.S. Capitol to highlight the threats ocean wildlife is currently facing," Arlo Hemphill of Greenpeace's Protect the Oceans campaign said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. "Without protection, not only penguins are at stake but entire ecosystems are in danger from the impacts of industrial fishing, pollution, deep sea mining and climate change. We're calling on the U.S. government to support the creation of a strong Global Ocean Treaty at the United Nations to protect 30 percent of our oceans by 2030. This new treaty would create a network of sanctuaries in international waters for wildlife to recover and thrive."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Moroccan patients who recovered from the novel coronavirus disease celebrate with medical staff as they leave the hospital in Sale, Morocco, on April 3, 2020. AFP / Getty Images

By Tom Duszynski

The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.

In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.

Read More Show Less
Reef scene with crinoid and fish in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Reinhard Dirscherl / ullstein bild / Getty Images

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A daughter touches her father's head while saying goodbye as medics prepare to transport him to Stamford Hospital on April 02, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. He had multiple COVID-19 symptoms. John Moore / Getty Images

Across the country, the novel coronavirus is severely affecting black people at much higher rates than whites, according to data released by several states, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Four rolls of sourdough bread are arranged on a surface. Photo by Laura Chase de Formigny and food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post / Getty Images

By Zulfikar Abbany

Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A coral reef in Egypt's Red Sea. Tropical ocean ecosystems could see sudden biodiversity losses this decade if emissions are not reduced. Georgette Douwma / Stone / Getty Images

The biodiversity loss caused by the climate crisis will be sudden and swift, and could begin before 2030.

Read More Show Less