The feathers of Antarctic penguins concentrate high levels of mercury
The regions polar remote like the Antarctica act as sinks for mercury, a metal toxic to the health of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and living beings that produces neurological, immunological and physiological alterations.
Emissions come from volcanic activity and, in addition, those that are released into the atmosphere in other parts of the planet naturally and through activities such as industry or the burning of fossil fuels.
Penguins are a direct indicator that this element is increasingly present on the continent
Recently, a team of researchers in which the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC), in addition to the Arid Zones Experimental Station (EEZA-CSIC), the Carlos III Health Institute and the University of Murcia, have found large amounts of mercury in the feathers of three species of Antarctic penguins, sampled between 2005 and 2007.
The study, published in the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, reveals that penguins are a direct indicator that this element is increasingly present on the continent.
Penguins, a model for studying mercury
“In our work we analyze the amount accumulated in the feathers of three species, the gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua, the chinstrap, Pygoscelis antarcticus, and that of Adelia, Pygoscelis adeliae, in a wide geographic area along the Antarctic Peninsula; obtaining high concentrations of this metal, especially in the chinstrap penguin on King George Island. These levels coincide with the estimates obtained previously ”, he comments. Andres Barbosa, MNCN researcher.
“Being at the top of the food chain, birds such as penguins are the perfect study model to measure the concentration of mercury present in Antarctica,” continues Barbosa.
Being at the top of the food chain, birds such as penguins are the perfect study model to measure the concentration of mercury present in Antarctica
Just a month ago, the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Madrid Protocol, a complementary agreement to the Antarctic Treaty, whose objective is the protection of Antarctica from, among other threats, mining exploitation.
Today, despite the fact that more than 50 countries have joined the protocol, the health of one of the most pristine corners of the planet, key in aspects such as the regulation of ocean currents, continues to be threatened.
“The conservation of this unique place in the world is being compromised by phenomena such as the climate change, or the growing tourism. Therefore, given the damaging effects of mercury on ecosystems, it is essential to continue analyzing its presence on the continent ”, Barbosa concludes.
Motas, M., et al. (2021). “Mercury Levels in Feathers of Penguins from the Antarctic Peninsula Area: Geographical and Inter-Specific Differences”. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(18), 9918. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189918
Rights: Creative Commons.