Penguining around the Southern Ocean

We have returned from a successful season in the Southern Ocean servicing a network of time-lapse cameras and counting colonies for Penguin Watch project.

This year, we started on the Kapitan Khlebnikov - a Russian Icebreaker chartered by Quark Expeditions - to visit the Snow Hill Island Emperor penguin colony. We then moved on to camp at George’s Point on the Antarctic Peninsula, where we were studying Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins. We only need to camp for specific tasks that take longer than a normal landing.

Finally, there was an extended period hitch-hiking on the Ocean Endeavour, a Quark Expeditions ship, that took us all around the Southern Ocean to access cameras and count colonies. Images for monitoring from cameras are now up on Penguin Watch.

While we were away, we were delighted that the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) announced additional protection for its Marine Protected Area (MPA). In particular – we gave scientific evidence to the government about numbers and foraging areas around the islands which have largely been adopted. The South Sandwich Islands are one of the most abundant seabird sites in the whole world. Zavodovski Island has 1.3 million pairs of Chinstrap penguins and is likely to be the largest colony of any animal on Earth (although krill swarms may contest this). Numbers are now uncertain as this volcanic island has erupted since it was last visited by the BBC for Planet Earth 2. We hope to visit next year to survey the islands post-eruption.

Currently these islands are allocated a krill quota by the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, although no krill fishing actually takes place. The MPA will ensure protection going forward, while at the same time not releasing a quota that might be fished on the Antarctic Peninsula. We know that fisheries closures displace fishing effort so this cautious approach is welcome. In contrast, the Antarctic Peninsula is increasingly fished with only a partial, voluntary buffer around penguin foraging areas, so measuring fishing impact on penguins will be our priority going forward.