65% of Antarctic species and penguins could disappear as global temperatures rise, study finds
It was only a matter of time before human-caused climate change and pollution reached even the most isolated continent on the planet. As the global temperature increases, The pristine landscape of Antarctica It’s already changing, and new research shows that most of the region’s plant and animal species, including its iconic penguins, are in trouble.
The study published Thursday in the PLOS journal Biology found that 65% of the native species of Antarctica, emperor penguins one of the main ones, will probably disappear by the end of the century if the world continues as it has been and fails to control fossil fuel emissions warming the planet.
The study also showed that current conservation efforts in Antarctica are not working on the rapidly changing continent. The researchers concluded that implementing an additional layer of cost-effective strategies, which they present in the study, could save up to 84% of Antarctica’s vulnerable biodiversity.
“Antarctica is not really contributing to climate change; there aren’t a huge number of people living there, so the biggest threat to the mainland comes from outside the mainland,” Jasmine Lee, lead author of the study, told CNN. “We really need global action on climate change, as well as some local and regional conservation efforts, to give Antarctic species the best chance to survive in the future.”
Antarctica’s geographic isolation has long shielded the continent from the worsening impacts of the climate crisis and other environmental disasters plaguing the rest of the world, such as forest fires, floods and droughts. Scientists have already observed significant changes in its northern counterpart, the Arctic, which is heating up four times faster than the rest of the planet.
But the impacts of climate change are only beginning to emerge in Antarctica. Recent data, for example, suggest Antarctic sea ice is falling faster now than decades before.
Thursday’s study shows that disappearing sea ice threatens several species of marine seabirds, such as the emperor and adelie penguins, They depend on ice from April to December to nest their young. If the ice melts earlier or freezes later in the season as a result of rising temperatures, the penguins struggle to complete their reproductive cycle.
“These iconic species, like emperor penguins and Adélie penguins, are at risk and it’s really sad to think that Antarctica is one of the last great wastelands on the planet and that human impacts are being seen and felt there,” Lee said. “It’s incredibly sad to think that we could drive those kinds of species to extinction.”
Human presence and activity is also increasing in the region. The study shows that scientific expeditions and infrastructure are expanding, while the number of annual tourists has exploded more than eight times since the 1990s.
A separate study from earlier this year showed that the increasing human presence in the region is causing more snow melt. Scientists found black carbon, the dark, dusty pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels, settling in places where people spend a lot of time. Even the smallest amount of this contaminant can have a significant impact on melting.
While the threat to Antarctic species and their ecosystems is becoming better documented, they are not as widely understood by policymakers, Lee said. And finding the funds for conservation can be a challenge.
But the study lays out several measures that are actually cost-effective, costing an estimated $1.92 billion over the next 83 years, or about $23 billion per year, a fraction of the world economy.
These strategies include minimizing and managing human activity, transportation, and new infrastructure, as well as protecting native species and controlling non-native species and diseases entering the region.
It also includes a focus on foreign policies, such as achieving the broader international climate goals under the Paris Agreement 2015whose objective is to reduce emissions that contribute to global warming and avoid a terrible increase in global temperature.
“The benefits of doing something about climate change are good for human health, livelihoods, and also good for the economy,” Lee said. “The incentive is there, but it’s just finding that initial investment and it just depends on priorities.”
Cassandra Brooks, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who has done extensive research on marine animals in Antarctica, said the study is “timely and important” in drawing attention to how severely threatened Antarctic biodiversity is.
“This study builds on previous work that shows the urgency with which policymakers need to take action on climate change, if there is any chance of safeguarding Antarctic biodiversity,” Brooks, who is not involved in the study, told CNN. . “It makes it abundantly clear that current conservation strategies are insufficient to do more than support biodiversity decline.”
The latest investigation comes days after negotiators at the UN biodiversity summit in Montreal reached a historic agreement to better protect the planet’s vital ecosystems, including a commitment to protect 30% of land and oceans by 2030.
With the climate crisis the most pervasive threat to Antarctic biodiversity, Lee said it is more necessary than ever to influence global politics to save one of Earth’s vast and pristine biomes.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Lee said. “We are at this big tipping point now not just for Antarctica, but globally, when it comes to climate. We have an opportunity to stop it, and if we don’t do something now, the impacts will be much, much worse than they could be.”