Antarctic Eco-Tourists Frighten Breeding Penguins

To: "Birding Aus (E-mail)" <>
Subject: Antarctic Eco-Tourists Frighten Breeding Penguins
From: Laurence and Leanne Knight <>
Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2000 19:03:18 +1000
This item from the environmental news service illustrates the other side
of the ecotourism coin ...



         Antarctic Eco-Tourists Frighten Breeding Penguins

                           By Andrew Darby

HOBART, Australia, February 3, 2000 (ENS) -
As booming numbers of Antarctic tourists focus on the wildlife of
the frozen continent, new research has found that people frighten
breeding penguins twice as much as natural predators.

Heart rates leap in nesting adults, and chicks mill about in confusion
at the approach of people or helicopters, according to the research by
... Dr. Melissa Giese of the University of Melbourne. 

But despite this evidence, she said tourism operators are resisting
advice to move further away from the wildlife, under pressure from
clients who have high expectations of their costly eco-tourism trips. 

Around 14,000 tourists are visiting Antarctica during the current summer
season, an increase of around 40 per cent on last year. Some analysts
predict tourist numbers will skyrocket in the coming decade. 

Observations of wildlife are high on their lists, and much of their
attention focuses on small areas available for seal and bird colonies. 

Peak tourist season also overlaps precisely with the peak breeding
season, Dr. Giese told an International Symposium on Cold Region
Development in Hobart. 

Adelie penguins breed on exposed rock all around the Antarctic

"People envisage Antarctica as a vast limitless place, but it's not,"
said Dr. Giese. "Every system has its limits." 

In her work, Dr. Giese invented an artificial egg containing a sensitive
microphone to measure the heartbeat of some Adelie penguins, and glued
tiny electro-cardiogram packs to the backs of others. 

She found that when humans approach within five metres, a limit applied
by tourism operators, the heart rate increased 52 percent. By
comparison, a predatory skua bird's approach to snatch an egg or chick
led the heart rate to lift by 20 to 25 percent. 

She also watched helicopters overfly Emperor penguin colonies at a
recommended distance of 1,000 metres (3,250 feet) and saw chicks respond
dramatically, shuffling around the colony using up energy that could be
needed to deal with the extreme environment. 

"If people only approach once or twice in a breeding season then this is
probably no big deal," Dr. Giese said. "But a number of these commonly
visited sites are no bigger than 1.5 km. by 1.5 km." Some may be
approached more than 100 times, she said. 
Australian government expeditioners recently doubled the approach limit
to 10 metres and extended limits on helicopters. But Dr, Giese said,
"There is actually some resistance from the commercial operators to
changing that (five metre) guideline." 

Instead, she said glossy brochures show people close to wildlife,
leading tourists to expect they too would have such an encounter. "If a
bird comes to investigate you, then that is no bad thing," she said. "If
you're lucky enough for it to happen, enjoy it. 

"But I have never heard of a breeding penguin that got off its nest to
investigate someone. Commercial operators have a very real stake in
sustainable tourism. The cumulative wildlife interaction issue is
something they are going to have to consider." 

{Published in cooperation with The Antarctican.}

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