A colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica suffered a “catastrophic breeding event” after French scientists discovered only two chicks survived at the start of the year -- the second time in the past four years the population has been ravaged by starvation, reported The Guardian.
In response to the breeding tragedy, researchers are now seeking the creation of a marine protected area in East Antarctica.
Scientists found thousands of dead or unhatched chicks in East Antarctica, which has been attributed to an unusual amount of sea ice coupled with extensive rain that left the colony of about 18,000 breeding penguin pairs traveling longer distances to find food, and chicks struggling to keep dry and warm.
The colony suffered a similar occurrence in 2013 where no chicks survived, reported The Guardian.
Recently, Antarctica has had low numbers of summer sea ice, but the area around the colony was an exception. The Mertz glacier tongue cracking off in 2010 also played a significant role in the region, reported The Guardian.
“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.”
Ropert-Coudert added that the increase in sea ice is negatively impacting the species, and noted that “optimum sea-ice cover” is needed to “thrive.”
Climate change as well as fishing and tourism has also had an impact on the Adélie penguins, resulting in decreased populations and the fear of possible extinction according to some researchers, reported The Guardian.