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Chinstrap penguins

Volcanic eruption to impact major penguin colony

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Monday, July 11, 2016, 3:29 PM - Ash from a volcanic eruption is blanketing the nesting grounds for the world's single largest colony of chinstrap penguins.

An estimated 1.2 million of the penguins live on the sides of Mt. Curry, also known as Mt. Asphyxia, a volcano located on Zavodovski Island, part of the South Sandwich islands. The island group is is one of the most remote in the world, and has no permanent human population.

Mt. Curry erupted in March 2016, and satellite photos show one third to one half of the island covered in ash. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) says this is a crucial time for the penguins, as the adults are undergoing their annual moult to grow new features, and can't leave the island.

"As the images were captured during the moult period for the chinstraps, the consequences could be very significant," Mike Dunn, a penguin ecologist with the BAS, said in a release. "When the penguins return to breed later in the year, it will be interesting to see what impact this event has on their numbers."

Two scientific expeditions are set to visit the site later this year to assess the volcano's impact.

"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," BAS geographer Peter Fretwell.

The South Sandwich Islands, together with the much larger island of South Georgia, are a British dependency. 

SOURCE: British Antarctic Survey | Thumbnail source

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