SYDNEY – The World Wildlife Fund asked on Friday for the creation of a new Marine Protected Area in East Antarctica after the death of thousands of penguin chicks in early 2017.
Only two chicks survived the last breeding cycle of a colony of 36,000 Adelie penguins, which survive mostly on a diet of krill found near their habitat in Terre Adelie in East Antarctica.
The deaths have been linked to unusually extensive ice in late summer, which forced adult penguins to travel longer distances to find food for their chicks, which ended up starving, according to the organization.
Four years ago, this same colony had suffered another catastrophic breeding failure owing to extreme weather conditions.
The two incidents have prompted the WWF to demand greater protection of the waters off East Antarctica at the upcoming meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. It will be held next week in the Australian city of Hobart and will consider the proposal for the creation of Marine Protected Areas in that zone.
“The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adelie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable,” said Rod Downie, head of Polar programs at WWF-UK.
“So CCAMLR needs to act now by adopting a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off East Antarctica, to protect the home of the penguins,” he added.
The proposal for a Marine Protected Area in East Antarctica, led by Australia, France and the European Union, has been on the table at CCAMLR for eight years without an agreement being reached.
The Antarctic Ocean is home to over 10,000 unique species, including most of the world’s community of penguins, whales, seabirds, giant squid and southern cod, the main target of fishing companies operating in the region.