Scientific paper, published by the British Antarctic Survey details long-term study of gentoo penguin population trends at Goudier Island, Port Lockroy

We (UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT)) have managed the historic site at Port Lockroy since 2006. Monitoring the breeding activities of the penguins has been an integral part of our seasonal work since the hut on the island was restored and opened as a living museum and post office for visitors. 

The paper, published this week, details BAS scientists’ analysis of a 21-year data set and reports that the number of breeding pairs of gentoo penguins on Goudier Island, Port Lockroy, have declined in that time by around 25%. The decline was similar across colonies both visited and not visited by human visitors to the island. They also report that the number of chicks (an indicator of breeding success) had declined by approximately 54% and 60% in visited and unvisited colonies respectively. The authors note a correlation between the declines and a parallel increase in visitor numbers. However, they also note that at other nearby frequently visited sites (such as Damoy Point, Biscoe Point, Cuverville Island, Danco Island, Georges Point and Waterboat Point), gentoo penguins are increasing in numbers.

Penguin population trends are complex – particularly, as the paper observes, against the backdrop of a rapidly changing, warming environment which can impact both breeding and feeding environments. We will continue our work with BAS, and others in the scientific community, to refine the ongoing study to better understand the driving factors, so that we might make positive changes to our activities within the wider context of human activity in Antarctica.

Clearly, this means that whilst the drivers for these changes are not fully understood, it would be prudent to review the management of our activities and those of our visitors to the island. Port Lockroy is one of 42 sites in the Antarctic, all of which have strict guidelines endorsed through the Antarctic Treaty System to manage visits. These site guidelines are agreed and adopted by the multi-lateral Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) to the Antarctic Treaty; a committee comprising scientists, national Antarctic programme managers, diplomats and environmentalists. We will continue to work with the Antarctic Treaty System and Antarctic tour operators to discuss the implications of these findings and to achieve the best possible long-term environmental management solutions for Port Lockroy, its heritage and its wildlife.

Along with our partners; BAS, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), we strongly support long-term monitoring projects, because they are one of the most effective ways of detecting and understanding change in wildlife populations. They also help inform decisions about managing and improving responsible human activity in Antarctica. A challenge, as cited in the report, is understanding exactly what is driving change in this case.

Throughout our custodianship of the historic sites in our care, our work in Antarctica has always been directed towards the protection of the natural and historic environment and we will continue to do that, working with our partners to contribute to and influence policy underpinned by science such as this.

Camilla

Read the full scientific paper here

Read the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) response to the paper here.

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