A grim phenomenon took place in Antarctica’s Bellingshausen Sea in spring of 2022. Researchers recently determined that, due to climate change causing sea ice in the region to vanish, unprecedented breeding failure has occurred for emperor penguins. Of the five colonies found there, the chicks in four of them did not survive to fledge.
Without sea ice, it is much more difficult to forage, build nests, and breed. Chicks also need time to develop their waterproof feathers, spending their lives on sea ice while these feathers develop. During the 2022 breeding season, satellite images showed parts of the Bellingshausen Sea had lost 100% of its sea ice, making it nearly impossible for the chicks to survive the freezing waters.
If human-induced climate change continues to rob emperor penguins of vital breeding grounds, it will spell disaster for the species. The decline in Antarctic sea ice began in 2016, but this year, sea ice in Antarctica will likely reach record low levels. Researchers have never seen sea ice disappear from an entire region of Antarctica before, and if global warming is not reduced, emperor penguins will likely lose 90% of their population by the end of the century.
Dr. Pablo Borboroglu, Founder and President of Global Penguin Society, shared this statement regarding his concern for the future of penguins:
“The evidence of climate change’s impact on penguins is stark, as demonstrated by the unprecedented breeding failure of emperor penguin colonies due to total sea ice loss in 2022. This dire situation aligns with the concerning fact that half of the 18 penguin species are now considered Threatened on the IUCN Red List. This study underscores the vulnerability of penguins to the effects of climate change, particularly emperor penguins, and serves as a grim reminder that immediate action is needed to address the escalating consequences of global warming.”