Ardley Island, in the Fildes Region, southwest of King George Island, South Shetland Islands, is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA N° 150) and is one of the few areas in Antarctica where the three Pygoscelis penguin species (Adélie, Chinstrap and Gentoo) breed sympatrically. Since the 1980s, a research group from the University of Jena, Germany, has been monitoring the breeding pairs and breeding success of three penguin species. The numbers of breeding pairs of Chinstrap penguins have decreased by more than 90% since counts began in the 80s, and more than 30% for Adelie penguins. In contrast, Gentoo penguins increased over the same period by more than 80% During the 2019-2020 summer campaign, as part of a CCAMLR Scientific Scholarship Scheme project, a collaboration with the University of Jena was established, to monitor some population parameters of the penguin colonies, following the standard methods of the CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program. Three parameters were measured in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons: breeding population size, breeding success and chick weight at fledging. For these parameters only Adelie and Gentoo penguins were considered due to the low number of Chinstrap pairs on the island. The breeding population size was measured applying the A3A method. Unfortunately, this parameter could only be measured in the first season, because in the 2020-2021 season logistical difficulties prevented arrival on time to record the beginning of laying. The breeding success was measured in Gentoo and Adelie penguins, using the A6C method. Finally, the weight of the chicks at fledging was measured applying method A7A. In the 2019-2020 season this parameter was only measured in Gentoo while in 2020-2021 it was possible to measure it also for Adelie. Overall, this pilot study settled the basis for a long-term monitoring of ecosystem changes using standard CCAMLR methods, in an area that has become a hub for touristic and logistic activities in the South Shetland Islands, and where research stations from several countries accumulate. The information generated by a long-term monitoring scheme will be key for the design, monitoring and assessments of the effectiveness of conservation measures as the proposed MPA. Remarkably, this pilot project allowed recording breeding parameters during the unusual conditions resulting from the logistic restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, providing valuable data on colonies performance when human activities in the area are limited to a minimum.
Professor Alvaro Soutullo (Uruguay)
Professor Oscar Pin (Uruguay)