Today is World Penguin Day! I’m celebrating by showing this video of Adelie penguins to my classes. You should watch the video before you continue reading.
Now imagine living in a world in which that cuteness was unable to go on. There are only two full-time resident penguin species in Antarctica, the Adelie and the Emperor (of the famed March of the Penguins). Both are threatened by the changing climate.
Since Adelie penguins are my favorites, I’m going to focus on them.
Here’s some alarming data. Between 1975 and 2002 the number of breeding pairs of Adelie penguins decreased by 73% (Smith et al. 2003). During this period, krill density fluctuated up and down but with a general trend towards a decrease. In fact, krill density in the Southern Ocean in 2003 was only 10% of the average density recorded between 1982 and 2003 (Atkinson et al. 2004). The krill decline was in turn correlated with loss of sea ice around Antarctica. In 2001 there sea ice extent around Antarctica was just over 28% less than the average extent between 1980 and 2001 (Palmer LTER archive data). Krill eat algae and algae can only grow on the underside of sea ice during the winter. Adelie penguins eat krill and fish that eat krill. Less results in fewer penguin chicks. Food is not the only problem for Adelie penguins. Warmer water around Antarctica leads to more snow in the winter. This snow melts during the nesting season, inundating chicks with water leading to high death rates due to hypothermia, as they are sitting in frigid water in their nests (Fraser and Patterson 1997).
You may be asking yourself, why does it matter if we lose Antarctic penguins? Well, obviously we’d lose a lot of cuteness from the world. But on a more serious note, a loss of penguins would be a harbinger of much bigger disaster. If penguins disappear, that most likely means that their food has disappeared. Krill, a penguin dietary mainstay, is THE food source for the Antarctic. If organisms don’t eat krill, they eat something else that eats krill. Whales, fishes, seabirds, and seals all ultimately rely on a stable krill population. Krill are also sought after by commercial fisheries for the omega-3 fatty acid industry. So if penguins are gone, krill is probably gone along with many other species.
So...help a penguin out! You can make at least one change in your life to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, here are some easy changes (see also my list in my “Footprints” entry, 3/21):
use less electricity: unplug chargers and appliances you are not using, open up shades
and curtains and just use sunlight (lights are off in my classroom today!),
run dishwasher & laundry when full only
eat fewer animals: it’s easy to plan plant-based meals, try to cut out animal products two
days a week
drive less: plan your errands for the week so that you can get the most done with the least driving
Today I’ve been brainstorming other ways (besides what I listed in my 3/21 “Footprints” entry) that I can reduce my emissions. One thing that I think I can reliably enter into my repertoire is buying grains in bulk. Earlier this month I wrote a lot about reducing my trash output (see 4/3 entry “Composting”). What I’ve noticed lately is that my remaining trash is mostly packaging. As a reminder, it’s important to reduce the amount of material going to landfills because landfills are a big source of methane. Also, plastics are made of oil and take a lot of energy (typically fossil fuels) to make. All grains seem to come in plastic packaging that is not recyclable. Buying grains in bulk will help cut back our trash output even more. I can bring my own bags to put the bulk grains in, and reuse them every time. One more small step in the journey to living as sustainably as I can.