Adélie penguins as indicators of Antarctic marine ecosystems: supporting the completion of a Marine Protected Area


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In the context of rapid environmental changes affecting the polar regions, marine ecologists have identified since 2011 a set of areas to be protected in priority, in the eastern region of Antarctica. Based on detailed scientific surveys 1, these include areas of representative Antarctic marine biodiversity 2, and habitats that are vulnerable to disturbance and/or have an important ecological role (e.g. fish nursery grounds, and foraging areas for marine mammals and penguins 3).

This proposal for marine protected areas in East Antarctica is still actively debated today. Over the years the proposal has yet been reduced from initially 7 to now just 3 important areas, and almost halved in its total extent. One of the designated areas, in the d’Urville Sea region (Figure 1), is proposed to be managed under a no-take policy on krill (shrimp-like crustaceans) for industrial fishing, to preserve a reference area where to study long-term environmental changes 4. However, this is still under consideration as well, in order to gather further scientific support regarding the location, size and policy for the protected area.

An Adélie penguin back to its nest, guarding the chick it has just fed with krill; picture by JB Thiebot / IPEV

Krill is the staple food for Antarctic top predators such as whales and penguins. Especially, Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) feed predominantly on krill, and for this reason they can be seen as “bio-indicators” of krill abundance and distribution in Antarctica. Tracking the movements and activity of the penguins at sea may thus reveal where they find prey-rich areas, and hence where are the ecologically-important areas to be protected in priority.

Until recently, the movements of Adélie penguins In the d’Urville Sea region had been studied in summer only: during that season the penguins often come back ashore to feed their chicks, thereby more conveniently studied.

With a collaborative team of experts on penguin ecology, I have recently been able able to track Adélie penguins over one year (from one summer to the next) 5. Using the latest technological advances, extra-miniaturized data loggers (3.6 g) were attached to the penguins’ leg, after they finished breeding, and were recovered during the following breeding season.

(One of the miniaturized data loggers used in the frame of this survey: this is a LAT2500, dimensions 8 × 36 mm, 3.6 g; manufacturer Lotek Wireless, Canada. It records day/light patterns, allowing for latitude and longitude to be back-calculated for each day; it also records immersion activity of the penguin from saline conductivity in seawater; and water temperature as well as pressure (converted to depth), The logger is attached to the leg of the penguin, with the flexible leg band allowing for normal leg movements and providing sufficient cushion even in cold water to avoid injuries to the studied penguins.)

What I discovered is that:

  1. Over one year, the penguins move to great distances away from their breeding colony (up to nine times the distance known during the breeding season). Hence, we need to take into account these large-scale movements and adopt a year-round vision to adequately preserve the marine ecosystems and resources. Consequently, the proposed boundaries for a Marine Protected Area are not too wide, but may instead not be wide enough.
  2. When the penguins maximize their krill intake to store energy and prepare for moult, they provision predominantly inside the proposed area (67% of days/penguin). Hence, it seems adequate to protect that area; but more importantly, the krill no-take policy seems relevant, as a local lack of krill resource would likely affect the penguins’ survival chances during moult, a period of 2-3 weeks when they cannot feed and survive only off their body reserves.
  3. Across seasons, the penguins consistently use the sea-ice edge to find their prey. This dynamic habitat, expanding and retreating seasonally, affects the distribution of penguins and other predators, concentrated near the mobile sea-edge where prey is available. Accordingly, a concept of mobile marine protected areas could be developed in order to protect such dynamic habitats, and avoiding designating extremely wide boundaries while only a fraction of that area may be ecologically important in each season.

Figure 1: Map of the study area in East Antarctica (far south from Australia): the breeding colony from where the penguins were tracked is indicated (Ile des Pétrels), and the boundaries of the “D’Urville Sea-Mertz” proposed Marine Protected Area are symbolized by dashed white lines. Each dot on the map shows the daily location of one Adélie penguin (one colour for each surveyed penguin), over a year. The colour background indicates the seafloor depth: green for depth less than 200 m near the coast; turquoise for depth less than 1,000 m; and dark blue for depth over 4,000 m. Results JB Thiebot / NIPR / CNRS

Our Goals

My research thus provides further scientific support for the completion of this Marine Protected Area in East Antarctica, and importantly stresses the need to implement this protection before the development of industrial fishing for krill hits this region.

This research needs to be communicated, to show to the policy makers: (1) the change of scale in penguin distribution across seasons; (2) the relevance of the krill no-take policy in the d’Urville Sea area; and (3) the concept of mobile marine protected areas in dynamic environments.

For this reason, I am willing to present this research at the 6th International Marine Conservation Congress (https://conbio.org/mini-sites/imcc6), to be held August 24-27 2020, in Kiel, Germany; and I would need funding support to attend this congress.

Why is this project Important?

The oceans are a leading source of life, producing 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. And it is the oceans again that absorb the vast majority (93 percent) of the CO2 from the atmosphere.  However, on a global scale the oceans appear to be in a poor state of conservation. Notably, the United Nations’ FAO has highlighted that 70% of the world’s fish stocks are over-exploited, and other perturbations severely threaten the marine ecosystems’ functioning, including warming, acidification, deoxygenation, pollution, offshore drilling, habitat destruction, predator removal.

Facing this situation, the 192 State Parties to the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity adopted in 2010 a Strategic Plan on the sustainable use of natural resources  (www.cbd.int/sp/targets/) that established a target of 10% of the marine regions to be protected by 2020 (the ‘Aichi Target no. 11’).

We are now in 2020, and a recent study showed that only 3.6% of the oceans is in implemented Marine Protected Areas (6). This is still far from the targeted 10%, and even more so from the minimum of 30% of the ocean that should be protected according to the scientists, to achieve the desired benefits for conservation of biodiversity (7).

Image: Two Adélie penguins walking to the sea-ice edge to dive and feed on marine prey; pictures by JB Thiebot / IPEV

Potential Outcomes

The expected outcome of this project is to communicate the results of my research to the stakeholders in marine management. This scientific communication will support, and ultimately help implementing, the project of Marine Protected Areas in East Antarctica, which has been suggested for years to preserve the marine ecosystem resources.

Specifically, with this project I aim to show to the policy makers that:

  • the proposed site is relevant: the penguins indeed get their food in this area, during the breeding season to raise their chicks, and before moult to acquire body reserves;
  • the proposed area is not too wide: the recent findings show that the penguins actually travel considerable distances outside the breeding season (during winter), and the proposed area would be a strict minimum to protect, rather than a too large area;
  • the “krill no-take” policy urged in this area is pertinent: the penguins feed on krill at 67% inside the proposed area, during the critical period preceding moult;
  • the emerging concept of dynamic protected areas, for which the boundaries could be changed based on season or conditions, may be a good option to conciliate the protection of seasonally-changing important areas: in the case of Adélie penguins, my research shows that protecting the area immediately along the sea-ice edge would be more efficient to protect the penguins (and hence the associated food chain and full ecosystem functions) than static boundaries (too small in the winter when penguins migrate, while not necessarily used in its full extent all year round).

Your budget

The objective here is to cover the cost of attending the congress in Kiel, rising to about 1500 GBP (economy-fare travel and registration costs).

From Japan, the best option (cheapest and quickest) is via Copenhagen (round ticket from 775 GBP), and Kiel is a short train ride from there. Depending on the success of the campaign and the time of booking, I may be able to get the best travel deals.

The cost of registration is currently undecided for the upcoming meeting, but is usually around 380 GBP for the early bird registration fee, increased with approaching start date.

Adélie penguins breed in dense colonies, as many seabirds do. When the sea surface is frozen, they may need to travel large distances by walking, to commute between their feeding and breeding areas; at sea, they can travel great distances by swimming; picture by JB Thiebot

Team

My name is Jean-Baptiste Thiebot. I am 39 years old. I am working as a marine ecologist in Japan, at the National Institute of Polar Research, Tokyo.

I am interested in the at-sea ecology of seabirds. These marine predators can be seen as bio-indicators of the oceans, because they depend on the marine food webs to live, and can thus reflect changes or dys-functionments in the marine environment. For example, climatic anomalies or human activities (fisheries, pollution) may impact the functioning of the ecosystems, and consequently, seabirds may exhibit changes in their numbers, diet, breeding success, following such impacts.
I use electronic recorders attached on the birds to learn about their distribution and activity when they go to feed at sea; this way I can monitor some of the ecological interactions taking place in the oceans.

During my PhD, I have highlighted that penguins may undertake very large-scale migrations at sea outside their breeding period (studied species: macaroni and rockhopper penguins). This research has notably served as a scientific basis to design a Special Protection Area in the southern Indian Ocean. I have also studied the risk that human activities (industrial fisheries) pose to critically endangered albatrosses.
I now work on a variety of seabirds in regions ranging from the tropics to the poles, including Japan and the Pacific Arctic.

I am the first author of 21 research articles (36 including co-authored papers) published in peer-review scientific journals; I have presented or co-authored a total of 72 presentations at international congresses, workshops or meetings, and have won an award for the quality of an oral presentation I have recently made. I am also giving lectures in ecology, marine sciences, and statistics to university students, and presentations on the Antarctic environment to passengers going to the southern regions.

So far I have spent 4.5 years on the field, mostly in Antarctica and on islands of the
Southern Ocean. When I am not at the office or on the field, I love hiking, diving, playing music and spending time with my family and dogs.

To thank you for your support

PLEDGE £10.00

Your name will appear in the Acknowledgements section of my talk (unless you prefer not – in the latter case, please let me know). Everyone attending the congress will be able to see that you made a contribution to this project!

PLEDGE £25.00

The above + a PDF copy of the recent scientific publication showing the details of this research. This will provide you with the full context of the study, and will make you feel closer from these recent achievements.

PLEDGE £50.00

The above + 5 e-cards of pictures taken in Antarctica while working for this project, with a personalized message on it to thank you for your support!

PLEDGE £100.00

All of the above + stunning video clips of underwater prey search & capture, filmed by the penguins themselves from miniaturized video cameras temporarily attached on their back. You will get to see how the penguins swim underneath icebergs to find and capture krill!

PLEDGE £500.00

All of the above + exclusive 1 to 1 video meeting with me to ask any question related to the project or to the ecology & conservation of penguins in Antarctica! The meeting can be in person rather than video if you happen to visit Tokyo.

PLEDGE £1000.00 to full funding

All of the above + official acknowledgment on the next scientific paper published on this project. Anyone who reads the paper in the years to come (printed or online) will be aware of your outstanding support to fund this project!

References:

[1] Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, Delegations of Australia and France: proposal for a representative system of marine protected areas (RSMPA) in the East Antarctic planning domain, SC-CAMLR-XXX/11. Report of the Thirtieth Meeting of the Scientific Committee. Agenda Item No. 5(ii), 2011.

[2] P. Koubbi et al., Estimating the biodiversity of the shelf and oceanic zone of the d’Urville Sea (east Antarctica) for eco-regionalisation using the CEAMARC (collaborative East Antarctic marine census) CAML surveys, Polar Sci. 4 (2011) 115–133.

[3] B. Raymond et al., Important marine habitat off east Antarctica revealed by two decades of multi-species predator tracking, Ecography 38 (2) (2015) 121–129.

[4] E. Sala and S. Giakoumi, No-take marine reserves are the most effective protected areas in the ocean, ICES Journal of Marine Sciences 75 (3) (2017) 1166–1168.

[5] J.-B. Thiebot et al., Adélie penguins’ extensive seasonal migration supports dynamic Marine Protected Area planning in Antarctica, Marine Policy 109 (2019) 103692.

[6] E. Sala et al., Assessing real progress towards effective ocean protection, Marine Policy 91 (2018) 11–13.

[7] B.C. O’Leary et al., Effective coverage targets for ocean protection, Conservation Letters 9 (2016) 398–404.

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  • Backers

    Your name will appear in the Acknowledgements section of my talk (unless you prefer not – in the latter case, please let me know). Everyone attending the congress will be able to see that you made a contribution to this project!

  • 2 Backers

    The above + a PDF copy of the recent scientific publication showing the details of this research. This will provide you with the full context of the study, and will make you feel closer from these recent achievements.

  • Backers

    The above + 5 e-cards of pictures taken in Antarctica while working for this project, with a personalized message on it to thank you for your support!

  • Backers

    All of the above + stunning video clips of underwater prey search & capture, filmed by the penguins themselves from miniaturized video cameras temporarily attached on their back. You will get to see how the penguins swim underneath icebergs to find and capture krill!

  • Backers

    All of the above + exclusive 1 to 1 video meeting with me to ask any question related to the project or to the ecology & conservation of penguins in Antarctica! The meeting can be in person rather than video if you happen to visit Tokyo.

  • Backers

    All of the above + official acknowledgment on the next scientific paper published on this project. Anyone who reads the paper in the years to come (printed or online) will be aware of your outstanding support to fund this project!

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General Overview

This Campaign has ended. No more pledges can be made.

  • Backers

    Your name will appear in the Acknowledgements section of my talk (unless you prefer not – in the latter case, please let me know). Everyone attending the congress will be able to see that you made a contribution to this project!

  • 2 Backers

    The above + a PDF copy of the recent scientific publication showing the details of this research. This will provide you with the full context of the study, and will make you feel closer from these recent achievements.

  • Backers

    The above + 5 e-cards of pictures taken in Antarctica while working for this project, with a personalized message on it to thank you for your support!

  • Backers

    All of the above + stunning video clips of underwater prey search & capture, filmed by the penguins themselves from miniaturized video cameras temporarily attached on their back. You will get to see how the penguins swim underneath icebergs to find and capture krill!

  • Backers

    All of the above + exclusive 1 to 1 video meeting with me to ask any question related to the project or to the ecology & conservation of penguins in Antarctica! The meeting can be in person rather than video if you happen to visit Tokyo.

  • Backers

    All of the above + official acknowledgment on the next scientific paper published on this project. Anyone who reads the paper in the years to come (printed or online) will be aware of your outstanding support to fund this project!