A recent post brought disturbing news of the tragic loss of thousands of Adelie penguin chicks because of changing sea ice conditions. Today we can share the happier news of drones discovering Antarctic’s newest penguin colony .
The Danger Islands located on Antarctica’s northern tip are aptly named for their isolation and inhospitable conditions. Although satellites have mapped the islands and indicated the presence of penguins it was not until an expedition led by Heather Lynch in 2015 that it was verified that the islands were home to a “super colony” of Adelie penguins. (photo – Rachel Herman/Stoney Brook University)
As recently reported in the journal Scientific Reports and Oceans Deeply, the Danger Islands’ penguin population numbers as many as 1.5 million individuals. Adelie penquins “are by far the most well-studied of all penguin species, which is one of the reasons why this new finding was so surprising,” said Lynch.
Flying Drones Find Flightless Penguins
To count the penguins, Lynch and her team relied on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). So as not to disturb the colonies the drones were flown no lower than 82 feet (25m) above the land. The final count revealed approximately 750,000 nesting pairs, making groups on two of the islands the world’s third and fourth largest colonies.
“We’re certainly not the first to use UAVs for counting penguins, but this was a nice demonstration of the technology and we were fortunate to have good weather during the expedition to fly the UAV,” Lynch said. “The biggest takeaway [from the study] is that this validates the use of satellite imagery as an important management tool, and we need to make sure that the marine protected areas being designed in this region account for this massive penguin hotspot.”
Weddell Sea MPA needs expanded boundaries!
Boundaries that are being considered for the creation of a Weddell Sea marine protected area presently do not include the Danger Islands. An omission that Lynch hopes this new discovery will rectify. Although populations of Adelie penguins have seen steep declines in recent decades due to climatic changes, this new discovery offers hope for their continued viability. (photo – Rachel Herman/Stoney Brook University)
“Adelies are considered to be a top predator, playing an important role in the Antarctic food web,” says Megan Cimino of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and can consequently serve as a proxy for the broader health of the Antarctic ecosystem.
Documenting Drones Doing what Drones Do!
Future Blue Ocean posts will keep you updated on the use of drones in marine research and the monitoring of MPAs around the world.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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