Thousands of emperor penguin chicks die due to record sea ice loss

Thousands of penguin chicks died in Antarctica last year due to melting ice.

Record-low Antarctic sea ice levels at the end of 2023 have caused one-fifth of Antarctica’s emperor penguin colonies to fail to breed, according to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

The study was published in the journal Antarctic Science on Thursday, World Penguin Day. The study used satellite data to uncover the extent to which early sea ice collapse affected penguin breeding cycles.

If the sea ice in which the colony breeds breaks before the chicks have grown their waterproof feathers, known as fledging, the chicks have little chance of survival.

Chicks that enter the water before fledge encounter high mortality or even total mortality within the colony. Even if they remain on flaked ice floes or ice floes, they are unlikely to be born, as it is difficult for parents to find and feed their young.

According to an analysis published in the journal Antarctic Science, 14 out of 66 colonies were affected in 2023, compared to 19 the year before. The breeding failure is a direct result of unprecedented sea ice loss in the region due to climate change in recent years.

Very low summer sea ice extent was recorded in both 2022 and 2023.

It is estimated that there are currently several hundred thousand emperor penguins left in the wild. Projections suggest that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at current levels, this charismatic species could become virtually extinct by the end of the century.

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