Things could take a turn for the worse for the members of one of world’s largest penguin colonies because of ash spreading from a volcano erupting on Zavodovski Island in the Sub Antarctic.
The island is a small one and is situated in the South Sandwich archipelago with its volcano Mt Curry erupting since March 2016. Home to over one million chinstrap penguins – the largest colony for this species in the world – the island is a part of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands and uninhabited.
Scientists have already confirmed that there are not one, but two volcanoes erupting in the South Sandwich Islands. Mt Curry on Zavodovski Island to the north of the archipelago and Mt Sourabaya on Bristol Island to the south.
Following the earthquake, fishing vessels in the area licenced by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, captured photos of the Zavodovski Island eruption. They show the main volcanic vent is on the western side of the island, but the prevailing wind is blowing the smoke and ash to the east, and depositing much of it on the lower slopes of the volcano. These are home to the chinstraps, closely packed in great numbers. In addition there are around 180,000 macaroni penguins.
Satellite images have confirmed that between one third and one half of the island has so far been covered in ash. At the time photos were taken, the adult chinstraps were moulting, shedding their old feathers for new ones and therefore unable to leave the island.
Geographer Dr Peter Fretwell from BAS who was involved in the remapping of the archipelago says: “We don’t know what impact the ash will have on the penguins. If it has been heavy and widespread it may have a serious effect on the population. It’s impossible to say but two scientific expeditions are scheduled to visit the region from later this year and will try to assess the impact of the eruption.”
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