Penguins die in 'catastrophic breeding event' in Antarctica

An entire breeding colony of some 40,000 Adélie penguins has seen all but two of its chicks wiped out in what scientists are calling a "catastrophic breeding event" in Antarctica.

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It is the second time in just four years such a disaster has taken place. In more than 50 years of observation, it had never been recorded before.

The calving of a section of the Mertz glacier is thought to be responsible, changing ocean currents and leading to record ice coverage in the birds' breeding ground in the eastern Antarctic, meaning the penguins had too far to travel for food.

The chicks starved to death, and the ice has been littered by thousands of bodies and unhatched eggs. The catastrophe has prompted urgent calls for the establishment of a marine protected area in East Antarctica.

Ropert-Coudert told the Guardian: "The Mertz glacier impact on the region sets the scene in 2010 and when unusual meteorological events, driven by large climatic variations, hit in some years this leads to massive failures.

"In other words, there may still be years when the breeding will be OK, or even good for this colony, but the scene is set for massive impacts to hit on a more or less regular basis."

Meanwhile, WWF says a ban on krill fishing in the area would help to secure their survival.

Rod Downie, Head of Polar Programmes at WWF told the BBC: "This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins.

"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."

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