Scientists in Antarctic Confirm Climate Refuge in the Remote Weddell Sea

February 1, 2022

Scientists from Stony Brook University on Greenpeace's Antarctic expedition have found that vast colonies of Adélie penguins in the remote Weddell Sea have remained stable in the last decade, providing vital new evidence that these areas remain a climate refuge for Adélie penguins, a sentinel species. 

Adélie colonies on Penguin Point, Devil Island, and Vortex Island all have roughly similar population sizes to when they were last surveyed [1]. Live interviews from the Antarctic are available on request.

The findings add more weight to the theory that the Weddell Sea may provide an important shelter for wildlife from the worst impacts of the climate crisis. 

The Weddell Sea is the site of a vast proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA), first proposed nearly a decade ago by the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR), which has not been delivered. This discovery reinforces the urgent need to protect and preserve the Weddell Sea while it retains an intact and functioning ecosystem.

Louisa Casson [2] said from on board the Arctic Sunrise in the Weddell Sea:

“It is amazing to see places of the Antarctic are still sheltered from the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Governments need to protect this area now. Last year, they failed yet again to give the Weddell Sea the protection it needs – a decade on from promising to protect the Antarctic Ocean. We urge them to act before it’s too late.”

Dr. Heather J. Lynch, Professor of Ecology & Evolution at Stony Brook University, one of the expedition’s leads, said: 

“The Weddell Sea is hardly immune from climate change, but it appears that Adélie penguins breeding in this area remain buffered from the worst of the threats posed to those populations declining so rapidly on the warming western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Our understanding of the biology in this inhospitable landscape continues to grow every year, but everything we learn points towards its value for conservation.”

Last week, Stony Brook scientists discovered a new gentoo penguin breeding colony on Andersson Island. This discovery provides clues that the ecosystem at the edges of the Weddell Sea is changing, though in ways that don’t appear to have yet negatively impacted the Adélie penguins who have called this region home for centuries.

Casson continued:

“Climate refuges for wildlife offer us hope – we can’t let that be dashed by destructive industries moving in. Governments must act to protect the Antarctic and our oceans before it’s too late. Ministers are paying lip service to scientists’ calls to protect at least a third of the global oceans by 2030, but the clock is ticking. Our oceans need protection: this has to be the year that governments create Antarctic ocean sanctuaries and agree on a Global Ocean Treaty.” 


Photo and video are available here.


[1] The scientists counted 21,500 Adélie chicks on Penguin point, 11,978 on Devil Island, and 6397 chicks on Vortex Island. All were last surveyed before 2010.

[2] Louisa Casson is a Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner and expedition lead.

Contact: Tanya Brooks, Greenpeace USA Senior Communications Specialist, P: 703-342-9226, E: [email protected] 


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