You mentioned that you monitor penguins, what are the key areas you observe?
My team, which I am nowadays a bit on the side of, study the breeding and feeding ecology of penguins. So we want to know how many birds arrive at the colonies every year, in what conditions, how many chicks they produce and in what conditions these chicks fledge. We also monitor where and what they feed on.
Are there any notable findings which you have discovered recently?
Yes, we work with three species of penguin which are chinstrap, gentoos and Adélies. We have observed that the Adélies and chinstraps are doing very badly – there population is declining between 40 to 70 percent and we think this is mainly because of some effect of climate change. On top of that it could be a combination of stress related food availability, maybe because of the concentration of the fisheries.
Gentoos, which are more flexible in their feeding and breeding behaviours are coping better with the variable environmental conditions. Generally, penguins decide to breed on a certain date, the same date every year more or less, but gentoos decide to wait if the weather conditions aren’t good – or they have a second hatch. They will also move their nest if the previous hatching was not successful and they have a much more flexible diet. We have observed that gentoos are moving south, expanding their breeding distribution and as a result, their populations are increasing. But Adelies and chinstraps are declining and it’s very sad to see.
How much research currently takes place in Antarctica?
A lot does take place, but it is expensive and in terms of logistics, it is difficult. However, there is a strong commitment from different countries to do the research. The cooperation is very good! It is wonderful to see how people work together for conservation. Particularly during Covid-19 it has been very difficult to put the people on the ground in Antarctica to do the research. It is very useful nowadays that the tourist industry is supporting scientific work and it’s a good way to keep doing science even in difficult conditions.
Stay tuned for more updates from Santos and her progress with the creation of the MPA in Antarctica.