Scientists surveying chinstrap penguin colonies in the Antarctic have found that the impacts of climate change have led to drastic reductions of chinstraps in many colonies, with some declining by as much as 77% since they were last surveyed almost 50 years ago.
The independent researchers, who joined a Greenpeace expedition to the region, found that penguin numbers had declined in every colony surveyed on Elephant Island, an important penguin habitat northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The overall number of chinstrap penguins on Elephant Island has dropped almost 60% since the last survey in 1971, with a total count now of only 52,786 breeding pairs, plummeting from previous survey figures of 122,550 pairs.
The scientists say that the dramatic decline can largely be attributed to the impacts of climate change. Reduced sea ice and warmer oceans have led to less krill, the primary food source of chinstrap penguins.
Louisa Casson added: “2020 is a critical year for our oceans. Governments must respond to the science and agree a strong Global Ocean Treaty at the United Nations this spring, that can create a network of ocean sanctuaries to protect marine life and help these creatures adapt to our rapidly changing climate”.