Politics gives wildlife a cold shoulder as Antarctica's penguins cry for help

Rajeshwari Ganesan
Rajeshwari GanesanNov 19, 2018 | 15:49

Politics gives wildlife a cold shoulder as Antarctica's penguins cry for help

Waving the Antartic Penguin goodbye. Proposal to create world's largest marine sanctity is shot down. Along with the fate of the penguin — all in the name of politics

A plan to create the world's largest marine sanctuary in the Antarctic waters has been shot down when a key conservation summit failed to reach a consensus. The sanctuary was proposed to cover 1.8 million square kilometres of ocean, and was targeted to protect whales, penguins and other marine wildlife.

What is the sanctuary all about?

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) — an international commission with 25 Members — had proposed to create the world's largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Antarctica's Ross Sea in October 2016. It was laid forth that 72 per cent of the MPA will be a 'no-take' zone — which forbade all fishing, while other sections would permit some harvesting of fish and krill for scientific research.

The motion required unanimous consensus by all members.

So why didn’t it happen?

At the convention of November 2018, the Commission could not reach the said unanimous consensus.

According to reports, Russia and China — whose concerns over compliance issues and fishing rights have proved key stumbling blocks in the past — along with Norway, rejected the plan.

Environmentalists are decrying the lack of foresight. “Nations designated Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. This was achieved because leaders put differences aside for the good of nature and for our collective future. Today, we let differences get in the way of responding to the needs of fragile wildlife,” said Chris Johnson, Senior Manager, WWF-Antarctic programme.

What is the big deal?

Antarctica’s penguins are dying for help.


According to reports, a colony of over 18,000 pairs of Adélie penguins in Antarctica's Terre Adélie suffered a breeding failure last year, with only two chicks surviving.

That's two chicks left in a colony of nearly 40,000 adults.

Adélie penguins are one of the hardiest animals on the planet. This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins. Need a better (or worse) visualization of the catastrophe? Imagine American director Quentin Tarantino making the 2006 film Happy Feet. Does it bring an image of thousands of starved and dead chicks, and unhatched eggs scattered across a region — instead of Mumble tap-dancing and rescuing the island from overfishing?

But that is exactly what has happened in Antarctica.

What We Hoped For: Mumble — the hero of Happy Feet — tap-dancing and no more fishing in Antarctic waters.

main_dead-penguins2_111918030720.jpgWhat We Got: A penguin — possibly the parent — standing next to the dead chick. (Photo: Y Ropert-Couder/ CNRS/IPEV)

The colony had experienced a similar event in 2013 when no chicks survived — making this the second time in just four years of such devastation being wrought on the penguins. Such a catastrophe had not been seen in over half a century of observation, say experts.

A paper by researcher Yan Ropert-Coudert from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research says that the event has been caused by a record amount of summer sea ice and an “unprecedented rainy episode”. The unusual extent of sea ice means that the penguins have to travel an extra 100 kilometres to forage for food — leaving their chicks behind.

Further, the rainy weather left the chicks — whose waterproofing is not yet developed — wet and cold. Nearly 20,000 chicks died.

While overfishing, oil drilling, pollution and climate change are imperilling the ecosystem, one would have thought that an ocean sanctuary like the one planned by CCAMLR could have protected these birds and all other forms of marine wildlife. The sanctuary would have meant no fishing in the waters, plenty of food around the Antarctic islands for the penguins and perhaps, no more dead chicks.

If only wishes were horses — or penguins.

Last updated: November 19, 2018 | 18:24
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