Royal Navy Supports International Research into Polar Penguin Population

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A team lands on Saunders Island, South Sandwich Islands to collect drone imagery to be used to calculate the numbers of penguins on the island. Photographer: LPhot Belinda Alker. UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

Royal Navy research ship HMS Protector is helping cutting-edge international research into the penguin populace and climate change in one of the most remote places on earth.

Experts from Britain and the USA are working with the icebreaker to study colonies of the birds in the South Sandwich Islands – so off the beaten track even the Royal Navy only calls in once a decade.

Pictured: Captain Mike Wood and some of HMS Protector’s ships’ company with the ship in the background. The hydrographic survey vessel spent a couple of days conducting bathymetric surveys as well as inshore surveys carried out by the survey motor boat (SMB) James Caird. Photographer: LPhot Belinda Alker – UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

The chain of islands – sovereign UK Overseas Territory – lie more than 1,300 miles east of the Falklands and are home to around three million of the flightless birds.

By landing on the uninhabited islands, recording the penguins and using drones, scientists hope for a better understanding of the impact of climate change and other environmental factors on the colonies.

Pictured: A team lands on Saunders Island, South Sandwich Islands to collect drone imagery to be used to calculate the numbers of penguins on the island. The ship plans to support the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) government by conducting a penguin count at Saunders Island as well as setting up a geodectic mark on South Thule. Photographer: LPhot Belinda Alker – UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

Captain Michael Wood, Protector’s Commanding Officer said:

“Visits by ships to these territories is exceptionally infrequent and hazardous.”

Captain Wood’s sailors contended with glacier-covered volcanic mountains, freezing waters, surf and gale-force winds to help scientists from Oxford University’s Department of Zoology and Washington DC-based scientific and educational organisation Oceanites, which has spent nearly three decades building up a comprehensive picture of penguin populations in Antarctica. 

Oceanites maintains a continent-wide penguin database known which everyone in the Antarctic Treaty system relies upon and uses penguins as avatars to spread the word internationally about climate change.

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