Penguins in Antarctica: in the heat, without food, and less and less

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Let’s put it this way: it’s like being locked in the house, with less and less to eat and beastly heat. Like a lockdown in August (let us escape), because in fact you can’t even “go out”, since you are already in the coolest place there is. Which is not so cold, since in 2020, Antarctica hit a new temperature record of 18.3 degrees Celsius. An absurdity, considering that the average temperature of the hottest month (January) is -28 ° C. In short, the penguins, the most famous inhabitants of Antarctica, with global warming and the exploitation of the oceans, are in a difficult situation, and today, January 20, in which the «Penguin Awarness Day», Is the right occasion to raise your hand and remember that as we speak – or rather we chatter as Greta Thunberg reminds us – climate change is changing the face of our world and putting many species at risk of extinction, including penguins.

The penguin, the least volatile bird that exists (with its size and its wings transformed into fins, it has become a very skilled swimmer but unable to take flight), the iconic animal that has taught everyone what it means to sacrifice for the reproduction of the species (remember the documentary on life in frost and the hatching on tiptoe of the emperor penguin colonies “March of the Penguins” by Luc Jacquet?), the penguin also famous for teaching us the “logic of betrayal” (lover near the nest in order to keep an eye on the “official” offspring), is also one of the sentinel species that help monitor the health of the Antarctic, and in general to understand the impacts of the planet’s climate crisis.

On the day the ship’s mission was dedicated to him Arctic Sunrise di Greenpeace is sailing in Antarctic waters with a team of scientists from Stony Brook University in New York on board along with Greenpeace climate change experts. “We will visit several colonies of penguins, some of which have never been approached, to monitor their health and get a picture of the situation,” he says on the phone. Louisa Casson of Greenpeace, spokesperson for the expedition, traveling on the ship with high waves, strong winds and with several layers of technical clothing on (including “three pairs of gloves, one on top of the other”). “The Antarctic is at the forefront of the climate crisis and the penguin colonies are suffering from it,” he says. In the 2019 mission we had registered as the colonies of Antarctic pigoscelid penguin of Elephant Island had had dramatic reductions, some even for 77% of individuals in the last 50 years».

«Penguins see their environment change and their ecosystem disappear: as long as we use fossil fuels they will be in great danger. Meanwhile the large fishing industries raid their main food, krill, (the small oceanic crustacean, ed), which is used to make krill oil sold as a food supplement. This is why it is important to establish a network of large protected areas that are off limits to fishing vessels and industry, but it takes everyone’s commitment: Commission for the Southern Ocean, made up of 25 member countries, including Italy, is 10 years behind on its deadlines, and it is because there is still no real political and diplomatic will in reaching a common decision ».

What can we hope for on the day dedicated to the penguin? Perhaps at least a little coherence and awareness of what are the consequences of our guilty, continuous and inadmissible distraction regarding the issues of climate change and our choices (not only of countries, but also of individuals). During the first lockdown he shot a photo of two penguins who seemed to hug each other looking at the lights of Melbourne, a photo that – with a great deal of anthropomorphism – moved many. Here, perhaps before exchanging the photo of the “embraced” penguins it would be worth doing the math about their impact on the planet (including krill oil) and assessing what consequences our choices may have on the life of who, without us, would live happily, in the cold, in the most remote place in the world.

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