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Ice melting early at Adelie penguin colony in Antarctica

12 Jan 2019, 23:54 ( 5 Months ago)

DF-Xinhua Report
Adelie penguins rest near China's research icebreaker Xuelong in Antarctica, Dec. 2, 2018. File Photo Xinhua/Liu Shiping.

The sea ice around a massive Adelie penguin colony in Antarctica has melted early this year, according to a group of New Zealand scientists based there on Saturday.

Cape Bird on the Antarctic peninsula is home to 30,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins that rely on the sea ice to gather krill and ice fish for their chicks.

Landcare Research Ecologist Dean Anderson who is watching the breeding season said the sea ice broke out around two weeks ago which is unusual.

"The adults are spending more time out at sea, and less frequent trips back to the chicks," he said, adding the chicks will be quite hungry, and that makes them more vulnerable to skua.

Anderson's study is focused on the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA), an international fishing sanctuary set up in the ocean off Antarctica a year ago. It is now the world's biggest MPA, stretching across 1.55 million square km.

Adelies make the perfect research subject as they are highly reliant on the sea for survival and changes in their fishing grounds can have a big impact on their health, Anderson said.

The scientists said it is too early to know why the sea has melted so early this year but said it could be a natural event or a result of climate change.

Field technician Brian Karl who has spent 26 years at Cape Bird in different studies said the sea ice usually does not melt until the end of January when the chicks are bigger.