Antarctica ice shelf collapse: World's second largest penguin colony 'disappears overnight'

The sea ice around Cape Bird has melted early right when the adelie penguins need it to fish for their young chicks. Credit: Image - Reuters; Video - Newshub

The world's second largest emperor penguin colony has 'disappeared overnight' with thousands of chicks wiped out after an ice shelf in Antarctica collapsed.

The catastrophe occurred in 2016, at Halley Bay in Antarctica's Weddell Sea, the Independent reports.

Since the incident, scientists have detected no breeding in the area.

Doctor Phil Trathan, the head of conservation biology for the British Antarctic Survey, told the Independent it had been a long time since they had seen a breeding failure like this.

"We haven't seen a breeding failure on a scale like this in 60 years," he said.

Usually 15,000 to 24,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins flock to the area each year. This number makes up 5-9 percent of the entire global emperor penguin population.

The area was considered a refuge for penguins in one of the coldest parts of the continent, and scientists expected the area to remain a safe haven despite climate change affecting Antarctic sea ice.

Emperor penguins need stable ice to breed on, which must last for a total of seven months, from the time the chicks are born to the time they fledge.

Trathan says failure to breed at Halley Bay was "unprecedented".

"It is impossible to say whether the changes in sea-ice conditions at Halley Bay are specifically related to climate change, but such a complete failure to breed successfully is unprecedented at this site," he told the Independent.

Trathan says emperor penguin numbers are set to fall dramatically, with 50-70 percent of the penguin population expected to drop before the end of the century.

This dramatic drop is due to anticipated change in sea-ice conditions which is a result of climate change, Trathan says.


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