The Oceanites Site Guide to the Antarctic Peninsula, 2d Edition

This is the popular, visitor-friendly version of the Compendium, which is available exclusively online via Longitude Books.

Why are we working in the Antarctic Peninsula? What is this project all about?

To census penguins and seabirds as well as assemble site-specific data and information regarding an assortment of biological and physical variables.

The goal is to understand, more precisely, whether environmental changes are occurring and, if so, why they're happening.

Inventory-collected data and information directly assist the implementation of the landmark Antarctic Environmental Protocol, which was signed in 1991 and has now entered into full force. If changes are detected, Inventory data and information will help provide the basis for management decisions made by Antarctic Treaty countries under the Protocol, which conserve the continent for future generations.

What are we doing, precisely? What's being produced?

We're doing lots of counting, mapping, and photography.

We conduct regular penguin and seabird nest and chick censuses at many sites during each November-to-February breeding season. These censuses are repeated from season-to-season so we may detect any significant population changes.

We also generate a wide range of site-descriptive information, including site-specific diversity checklists, orientation maps, and repetitive photodocumentation.

When did the Inventory begin collecting and compiling data?

November 1994.

Where are we working?

Primarily in the Antarctic Peninsula.

How do we collect these "on-the-ground" census data?

Carefully and rigorously!

By using hand-held clickers.

Field data are recorded in the researchers' field notebooks. Later, these data are formally entered on a data sheet pertaining to that particular site visit.

Is there a " best" time for counting?

Yes.

For penguin nest censuses, at the peak of egg-laying. In the case of Adélie, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins, which normally lay two eggs, this time period lasts for approximately seven to ten days, starting when there are two-egg clutches in a majority (51%) of a colony's nests.

For penguin chick censuses, the crucial time is the peak of chick-créching. This occurs when penguin chicks are 4-6 weeks of age, leave the area contiguous to their nests, and begin assembling in large groups called crèches.

Why are these census data important?

To be blunt, because conservation doesn't simply happen in a vacuum.
Everywhere - including in Antarctica, assessment and monitoring are the lynchpins of long-term environmental conservation.

It makes no difference whether the appropriate management authority is a local environmental agency or the consortium of Antarctic Treaty countries, there needs to be evidence that "things" really are changing.

Relevant data and information collected by the Inventory will allow retrospective comparisons and analyses to be made, which in turn illuminate available management options and ultimately, hopefully, will provide a sound basis to justify any management option that is selected.

As with all environmental conservation or management, decisions must be based on the best available scientific data and information. Otherwise, whatever is done may, just as easily, be undone.

Is a special permit needed for the Inventory to do its work?

Yes.

The Inventory and its researchers are permitted under the US Antarctic Conservation Act and the environmental aspects of our work are reviewed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Does this permit allow Inventory researchers to get close to penguins?

Yes. The Antarctic Conservation Act permit acknowledges that Inventory researchers sometimes need to get very close to wildlife to conduct their censuses. And much closer than regular tourism visitors and guests.

To make useful, retrospective comparisons, do you need to count all penguins at a particular site?

Yes! We strive to obtain site-wide nest (N1) and chick (C1) censuses at each of our survey sites.

How can you tell whether a penguin colony is "successful"?

You can tell a colony's productivity by determining how many chicks are produced per active nest. Statistically, that means dividing the number of chicks counted at the peak of chick-créching by the number of nests counted at the peak of egg-laying.

But all eggs don't hatch, many chicks perish (for various reasons), and clearly, all chicks don't ultimately fledge and go to sea. So, with respect to Peninsula penguins, which lay two eggs, a productivity of 2.0 is never realized.
There can be wide variations in productivity. In some seasons, a productivity as high as 1.3 or 1.5 is possible. Then again, in some years a site may experience a total crash of penguin chicks, which means a productivity of zero.

What's the Inventory's overall plan of work?

In general, the Inventory relies upon opportunistic ship visits to examine the physical features, flora, and fauna of the Antarctic Peninsula, including the sites most heavily visited by expedition tourists.

To reiterate: there are key census periods in each breeding season - during the peak of penguin egg-laying for penguin nest counts and during the peak of penguin chick-créching for penguin chick counts.

Where's the Antarctic Site Inventory maintained?

On computers located at the Oceanites home office, the Conservation Biology Lab of Dr. William Fagan at the University of Maryland, and The Lynch Lab of Dr. Heather Lynch at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

If you see the Inventory researchers "in action," what will you notice?

If they're engaged in census work, you'll see them deliberately walking, hiking, or climbing around the perimeter of penguin and seabird colonies, then stopping often and counting using hand-held data clickers. Counts are read off of the face of the clickers, then logged, in pencil, into field notebooks.

What is done with Inventory-related data and information?

They're used in a variety of ways.

Especially, for retrospective comparisons and analyses, which help detect changes in Peninsula fauna and flora populations. The results of these comparisons and analyses spur efforts to minimize and avoid any direct, immediate, or long-term impacts from human activities.

A population change, for example, would be indicated if there's a significant increase or decrease in the number of active nests over time.
If changes are detected, the next - and much more difficult - task is ascertaining whether such changes are naturally occurring or the result from some human interaction.

Importantly, in collaboration with The Lynch Lab of Dr. Heather Lynch at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Oceanites intends to initiate comprehensive analyses of long-term Antarctic data sets.

It is hoped that by combining Antarctic Site Inventory data with, and then analyzing, other long-term data sets on biological and physical aspects of the Antarctic Peninsula, we will glean a better understanding of changes occurring in this ecosystem.

Oceanites makes all data and information collected by the Antarctic Site Inventory available worldwide, readily and easily, and to all who are interested. Analyses of the Inventory database are intended for publication in scientific papers and referenced in popular publications.

Already, Antarctic Treaty countries rely on the Inventory database in their effort to fashion management guidelines for tourism visits to species-diverse, environmentally sensitive locations.

Why and how does the Inventory assist long-term conservation of the Antarctic?

By using our available data, there are sensible management options available to Antarctic Treaty countries under the Antarctic Environmental Protocol.

How does the Treaty work, in general?

By consensus.

All voting countries must agree to a proposed action, which sometimes means that progress is slow and may require long discussion and debate.
After recommendations, site designations, and any Protocol management plans are adopted, they must be implemented by regulations in each "home" country, which apply to that country's nationals.

What's happened under the Treaty regarding visitors and conservation?

Beginning at the June 2006 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, the Antarctic Treaty countries began adopting site management guidelines relying upon data and information provided by Oceanites in our Antarctic Site Inventory.

How are Treaty recommendations enforced?

Keep in mind that, under the Treaty, everyone is allowed free, peaceful, and respectful access to Antarctica - assuming they can get there safely!
However there is no international Antarctic police force.

As noted , each country must ensure that its nationals abide by the rules and recommendations that the Treaty adopts by consensus. So, essentially, each country is responsible for enacting laws and regulations with respect to the Antarctic activities of its own citizens.

Does the Inventory data indicate any population changes?

Yes. In the vastly warming Antarctic Peninsula climate, gentoo penguin populations have significantly increased, while populations of both Adélie and chinstrap penguins have significantly declined.

What about climate change?

In the Antarctic Peninsula, it's a reality.
Over the last 60 years, the Peninsula has warmed by 5°F. on a year-round basis, in winter by 9°F.

What's the relationship of krill and climate to penguins?

The mantra is simple:

For all biological creatures, including us humans, everything depends on four factors - food, successfully passing genes to future generations, weather, and breeding territory.

If all are in synch, a species will survive and flourish.
If not, there will be problems.

If I'm concerned about Antarctica's future, to which group or organization should I contribute?

Please consider Oceanites!

Because the Antarctic Site Inventory is the only, publicly supported research project working in Antarctica.

The only one.

No other US-based or international wildlife or environmental nongovernmental organization (NGO) directly supports field studies in the Antarctic.

And no other group or organization funds work that directly assists ongoing monitoring needs of Antarctic Treaty countries.

Keeping in mind that assessment and monitoring are vital, a donation to Oceanites means that you'll be contributing directly to Inventory's data collection and information delivery, the long-term conservation of the Antarctic, and ‘spreading the word’ about climate change to a larger, international audience.

Are contributions to Oceanites deductible?

Yes, by US citizens. Oceanites is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization and contributions are fully tax-deductible.