Climate change is complex. While disappearing sea ice poses a threat to penguins, Adélie penguins in east Antarctica were recently hit by the opposite problem – there was too much sea ice. This meant they had to travel further than usual to reach their usual feeding grounds, and took longer getting back.
Coupled with several days of freezing rain at a critical period – a very rare occurrence in what is officially classified as a polar desert – conditions for rearing young were poor. Chicks’ downy feathers are not waterproof, and not a single chick from a colony of 30,000 adult pairs survived the 2013-14 breeding season.
Events like this show how precarious life in extreme environments can be, and how the changing climate can threaten the very survival of a species. While the same colony bred more successfully the following year, the importance of understanding and protecting Adélie penguins in a changing world could hardly have been more forcefully demonstrated.
With this in mind, we’re working with French polar scientists at Dumont D’Urville Station in east Antarctica and we support important research by CNRS, the French Antarctic Programme. We’re monitoring the foraging habits of the penguins, using miniature GPS devices fitted while the females are incubating to track their movements and identify key “biological hotspots” in the Southern Ocean where they feed.
Together we’re trying to predict how the Adélies might adapt to climate change, and we’re strongly supporting an international proposal to create a large-scale marine protected area to safeguard their feeding grounds off east Antarctica.