EYE ON THE NEWS: BREEDING CATASTROPHE IN ADELIE LAND

Terre Adélie (Adélie Land) in eastern Antarctica is home to a significant colony of Adélie penguins. The over 18,000 pairs of penguins have recently suffered a breeding catastrophe in which all but two of the colony’s chicks have died. The cause of this tragic event is most likely abnormally vast amounts of sea ice surrounding the colony, thus forcing the adult penguins to travel farther for food, said the World Wildlife Fund. “The impact of this catastrophic event is confined to this specific colony of Adélie penguins, predictions are that the Antarctic will get warmer and this may pose different challenges in the longer term” said Rod Downie, Head of Polar Programs at WWF. As if the penguins didn’t have enough to worry about, and this is not the first time for disaster to strike the colony. Four years ago, every one of the colony’s chicks froze to death when a cold snap followed a rain event. We are hopeful that there may be a light at the end of this bleak tunnel for the Adélie penguins. Environmental groups and officials are meeting to discuss the creation of a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) for the waters off eastern Antarctica. If this protection zone were to be enacted, it would make the area off limits to krill fisheries which is great news for the penguins since krill is an important part of their diet. This protected area would ultimately form a safer breeding ground for the penguins, something that it seems they are in much need of these days. According to Yan Ropert-Coudert, lead researcher on the Adélie Penguin Program at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), the breakup of the Mertz glacier since 2010 is causing other environmental changes in the region as well. Ropert-Coudert said “An MPA will not remedy these changes but it could prevent further impacts that direct anthropogenic pressures, such as tourism and proposed fisheries, could bring.” This is good news considering research by oceanographers at the University of Delaware found that 60% of Antarctica’s Adélie penguin habitat may become unsuitable by the end of the 21st century due to warming seas and rain. 

SAD FOLLOW-UP:

PROPOSED MARINE PROTECTED AREA GETS DENIED AT 2017 MEETING OF THE COMMISSION FOR THE CONSERVATION OF ANTARCTIC MARINE LIVING RESOURCES (CCAMLR)

By M.R.Guercio

Above, we featured a story about a colony of Adélie penguins who tragically lost all but two of their chicks. A hopeful proposition to create a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) around eastern Antarctic waters would lessen anthropomorphic stressors on the areas that the penguins breed and fish in. At last year’s meeting the Ross Sea MPA, which is the largest in the world, was successfully negotiated and CCAMLR was hopeful that this positive momentum would carry the decision to approve another large MPA covering one million square kilometers in eastern Antarctic waters. Not only would this MPA be beneficial for Adélie penguins, but also would protect unique marine ecosystems.  Unfortunately, this proposition was denied during this year’s meeting due to the lack of consent from Russia and China. The meeting of representatives from 24 countries plus the European Union, must all be in agreement in order for the MPA to be approved.

Fishing is a common excuse used by parties who oppose the creation of protected waters, as it can be used to exert power and geopolitical control over this neutral area of the world. It is important to note, that the proposal for the Eastern Antarctic MPA did not explicitly ban all fishing in the protected area, and accommodations for fishing have been made in the past in other protected areas - - in spite of the fact that the ecology will suffer along with the individual sea animals.

However, there were positive strides made in protecting Antarctic waters at this year’s meeting which include protection of exposed waters after the Larsen C ice shelf split (Larsen A collapsed entirely in 1995 and Larsen B did the same in 2002); approval of an MPA around the Arctic Peninsula, and the approval of a research and monitoring plan for the Ross Sea MPA.

If you wish to look into this more, please read the articles below:

Why are talks over an East Antarctic marine park still deadlocked? By Cassandra Brooks

https://theconversation.com/why-are-talks-over-an-east-antarctic-marine-park-still-deadlocked-86681

Plans rejected for East Antarctic Marine Park By April Reese

https://www.nature.com/news/plans-rejected-for-east-antarctic-marine-park-1.22913