The South Sandwich Islands, in the South Atlantic Ocean, are a major biological hot spot for penguins and other seabirds, but their remoteness and challenging coastlines preclude regular biological censuses. Here we report on an extensive survey of the South Sandwich Islands, the first since the late 1990s, which was completed through a combination of direct counting, GPS mapping, and interpretation of high-resolution commercial satellite imagery. We find that the South Sandwich Islands host nearly half of the world’s Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica) population (1.3 million breeding pairs), as well as c. 95,000 breeding pairs of Macaroni Penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus), and several thousand breeding pairs of Gentoo Penguins (Pygoscelis papua). Despite being at the northern edge of their breeding range, we found an unexpectedly large (≥125,000 breeding pairs) population of Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae). Additionally, we report that nearly 1900 pairs of Southern Giant Petrels (Macronectes giganteus) breed in the South Sandwich Islands, 4 % of the global population, almost all of which are found on Candlemas Island. We find that the South Sandwich Islands have not experienced the same changes in penguin abundance and distribution as the rest of the Scotia Arc and associated portions of the western Antarctic Peninsula. This discovery adds important context to the larger conversation regarding changes to penguin populations in the Southern Ocean.
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Thanks to the crew of the MS Golden Fleece for getting us there, getting us ashore and back again, and keeping us fed and watered along the way. It is hard to imagine that it would have been possible to get so much done without the experience of Jérôme Poncet, who surely knows these islands better than anyone else. Thanks to Tom Hart who participated in the survey and provided notes and photographs, as well as to Thomas Hopper for help digitizing the coastline for GIS support. Many thanks are due to Dr. Keith Reid, Dr. Peter Convey, Dr. Jeroen Creuwels, and one anonymous reviewer, all of whom contributed significantly during the review process. HL and RN would like to acknowledge the Tinker Foundation and the Jeniam Foundation for financial support contributing to the expedition, and HL would like to acknowledge the US National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs and Geography and Spatial Sciences (Award Nos. 07-39515 and 12-55058) for financial support of the data analysis.
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Lynch, H.J., White, R., Naveen, R. et al. In stark contrast to widespread declines along the Scotia Arc, a survey of the South Sandwich Islands finds a robust seabird community. Polar Biol 39, 1615–1625 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-015-1886-6
- Population estimate
- Zavodovski Island
- Chinstrap Penguin
- Macaroni Penguin
- Adélie Penguin
- King Penguin