One of the world’s most recognisable species – the emperor penguin – could all but extinct by the end of this century due to the climate crisis, scientists have warned.
The WWF, which issued the warning, called for emperor penguins to be listed as a specially protected species to better shield them from the impacts of the global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
Eighty per cent per cent of all known colonies of the birds are projected to be “quasi-extinct” – so few in number that their survival is doomed – by 2100 under current levels of CO2 emissions.
It also predicted the total number of emperor penguins could decline by at least 81 per cent under that scenario.
The research was presented to the Antarctic Treaty, which is also set to designate Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science, to World Penguin Day – held each year on the 25 April.
Rod Downie, WWF’s chief adviser on polar regions, said: “Emperor penguins are the most iconic species of the ice. They are uniquely adapted to the harsh and extreme Antarctic environment. Yet they are also increasingly vulnerable to climate change, habitat loss and human disturbance.
“Only humans can secure the future of this species, as their fate depends on global climate policy combined with an action plan to protect their habitat and remove other risks from human disturbance.”
He added: “We need emperor penguins to be listed as specially protected species at this year’s Antarctic Treaty meeting in order to better shield them against the threat of climate change and to ensure their continued survival.”
The WWF said the species was particularly vulnerable to the various changes in sea ice conditions, such as thinning and reducing in extent, which can have a major impact on their breeding success.
“The very survival of the species depends on the sea ice being just right for their needs,” the wildlife preservation organisation said.
Emporer penguins need stable ice which is connected to the land for about nine months of the year as a platform to mate, incubate their eggs, raise their chicks, and replace their feathers during the annual moult.
The loss of this “fast” ice, or early ice break-out, can cause massive breeding failure for several consecutive years.
Collapsed ice shelves can also block paths to feeding areas, leading to the deaths of both chicks and adults.
Rising global temperatures mean the loss of Antarctic sea ice is now almost certain. In March, temperatures in parts of eastern Antarctica rose by 40C above average, and this year has seen the lowest sea ice extent since the dawn of the satellite era.