SANTIAGO – The largest emperor penguin colony has shrunk. Thousands of chicks drowned in 2016, and the colony never recovered. Last year, Chilean and Argentinian scientists responded with protection measures for the endangered species.
In Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, the largest emperor penguin colony in the world (up to 9% of the global population) used to breed every year. The “Halley Bay colony” included up to 25,000 breeding pairs, and for decades they laid their eggs on the sea ice. However, if the sea ice breaks up before December, when the penguin chicks fledge, they drown.
This happened on a large scale in 2016, according to British scientists. The ice broke up too early, and thousands of chicks drowned.
The colony has not recovered. In fact, the possibly traumatized-emperor penguins have since stopped breeding, missing both the 2017 and 2018 breeding seasons. These are concerning developments that could result in a decrease of at least 60% of the global population of emperor penguins in the next decades, scientists warn.
Emperor penguins play an important role in the ecosystem of Antarctica, both as prey and as hunter, and, last year, Chilean and Argentinian scientists offered measures to protect them, aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2016 ecological disaster.
The plan suggests that the impact of human activities should be controlled and that studies on the impact of climate change on these ecosystems should be intensified.
More concretely, the team proposes to define an area of general protection in Antarctica, by granting extra shelter areas to colonies of emperor penguins. This area should be created in what is called Domain 1, a part of southern Antarctica.
Other species that form part of the ecosystem of emperor penguins should be protected as well. Important food such as krill must be protected, while threats such as overfishing, pollution, and human interference in reproductive zones should be minimalized.
In other parts of the world, organizations have also taken steps to protect the animals. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice earlier this month, suing the Trump administration for not granting the emperor penguin Endangered Species Act protection.
Watch also: The famous March of the Penguins was based on the Halley Bay-colony
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.