An Antarctic colony of more than 36,000 Adélie penguins produced just two surviving chicks in the last breeding season.
Terre Adélie, where the colony is based, suffered unusually high levels of sea ice, so adult penguins had to travel further to find food. As a result the chicks starved. There was another unusually bad breeding season four years ago, when no chicks survived; the colony is set to be significantly depleted in the coming years.
WWF, the wildlife charity, will ask for greater protection of the waters off East Antarctica next week, at an international meeting in Hobart, Tasmania, where proposals for a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) will be considered.
The proposal for an MPA, which would protect the penguins from fishermen, among other things, has been on the agenda for eight years.
“The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adélie penguins for food … is unthinkable,” said Rod Downie of the WWF.
The heightened sea ice is down to natural variations in the weather which, in this case, are not thought to be linked to climate change or any other manmade phenomenon.