More than a third of a major Antarctic penguin colony has been decimated, and researchers believe it's due to warmer temperatures and disappearing ice and food. The colony of chinstrap penguins relies for food on krill, which depend on algae that attach to ice, which is rapidly disappearing, scientists note. The team from Madrid's National Museum of Natural Sciences tallied chinstrap penguins in the Vapour Col colony of Deception Island in the Antarctic's Shetland Islands, and photographed nests in 19 subcolonies from 1991 to 2009. The number of occupied nests in that time period plummeted by 36%, with the steepest declines occurring since 2000. The population of a nearby chinstrap colony on Bailey Head has plummeted by 50%, according to the team's findings in Polar Biology.
The population declines "constitute a general pattern" in the South Shetlands, and are particularly troubling as "population changes of top predators provide key indications of environmental quality," writes lead researcher Andres Barbosa. "This is an example of how the human activity far from the poles can affect life thousands of kilometers far from our homes," he tells MSNBC. "A more responsible use of the energy and fossil fuels is necessary to preserve the planet, and Antarctica."