Birdlife International warns more extreme climate change snowstorms could see Antarctic seabirds become extinct

A birdlife expert is warning about the "drastic impacts" climate change is having on Antarctic seabirds and fears some could become extinct if current trends continue.  

Entire populations of Antarctic seabirds are failing to breed due to extreme climate change-related snowstorms. 

December and January are usually prime breeding times for the Antarctic petrel, south polar skua and snow petrel.

But new research has found during this time in 2021 and 2022, not one skua nest was found in one of the main breeding regions. 

Stephanie Borrelle from Birdlife International told AM on Tuesday even though these Antarctic seabirds are currently not on track for extinction, more severe weather could change that quickly. 

"These ones aren't critically endangered and they're not necessarily vulnerable, but all seabirds around the world are affected by human activities, and climate change is obviously one of those," Borrelle told cost-host Isobel Ewing.

"It really is a species-specific situation but these ones, if they have multiple years of these kinds of events, they will very quickly run out of habitat to be able to breed and effectively will see them sort of on a trajectory to extinction very quickly."

Borrelle said these three seabirds only breed in Antarctica and the "drastic" effects climate change is having on the world are also affecting them. 

"The poles are warming at a greater rate than anywhere else in the world, so previously most of these impacts have been seen on the Antarctic Peninsula, which sort of stretches a little bit further north. This is one of the first studies that shows that climate change is having really drastic impacts on the continent itself.

"So what's happened is these summer storms have caused huge snow flurries and snow storms and winds that have prohibited these birds from being able to nest and also go out and forage to feed any chicks and so they've effectively as a whole cohort of birds they have abandoned their breeding opportunities." 

Stephanie Borrelle from Birdlife International.
Stephanie Borrelle from Birdlife International. Photo credit: AM

Borrelle said the scale of the recent extreme snowstorms was "enormous" and stopped breeding across the continent. 

"The scale of the event in this situation was so enormous that it actually caused breeding failure and abandonment of breeding across a vast, vast scale of Antarctica - hundreds if not thousands of kilometres that we're aware of.

"So that scale then means you're taking out an entire cohort of birds. So imagine taking out an entire year 12 class and just removing them from school. What that means is those birds, when they come to breed, won't be there anymore. 

"So then that has long-term population-level impacts and you start to see more drastic declines in those species." 

Watch the full interview with Stephanie Borrelle in the video above.