Mass starvation has wiped out thousands of chicks
Thousands of penguin chicks have starved to death in Antarctica. Conservationists have called the the mass starvation event a “catastrophic breeding failure.”
Since 2010 French scientists and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), have been studying 18,000 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins in East Antarctica. Earlier this year the researchers found that only two penguin chicks had survived the breeding season, the rest of the 40,000 strong colony had experienced mass starvation, leaving traces of unhatched eggs and starved chicks across the island.
During 50 years of observation this is the second time in just four year that this level of devastation has been seen. In 2013 no surviving chicks were found. Both events have been attributed to unseasonable large shelves of ice, meaning the penguins had to travel an extra 100 kilometres to find food.
Although Antarctica is experiencing record low amounts of summer ice the area surrounding the colony is an exception. The unseasonable summer rains left the newly hatched chicks exposed to the wet and cold as they waited for their parents to return with food.
According to The Guardian, Yan Ropert-Coudert from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, said the region’s ocean currents and and ice formation have also been severely affected by the Mertz glacier — a piece of ice 80 km long and 40km wide – that broke away in 2010.
In other parts of Antarctica human impacts including climate change are being cited as the cause of the near extinction of Adélie penguins.
This week Hobart, Australia will host the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) where 24 nations will come together to discuss the conservation of marine life in the region. The recent loss of penguins has prompted urgent calls for new marine protected areas in East Antarctica.
At last year’s annual meeting, after years of negotiations, the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA) was decided on in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.
WWF are urging for the waters of East Antarctica to be protected from industrial fishing and the harvesting of krill so that the penguins don’t suffer an extra competition for food.