the regions polar remote like the Antarctica act as sinks to Mercury, a metal that is toxic to the health of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and living beings that produces neurological, immunological and physiological changes.
Emissions come from volcanic activity and, furthermore, 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, found large amounts of mercury in feathers of three species of Antarctic penguins, sampled between 2005 and 2007.
The study, published in 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 analyzed the amount accumulated in the feathers of three species, the gentoo penguin, Papuan Pygoscelis, a chin strap, Pygoscelis antarcticus, and the one of adelia, Pygoscelis adeliae, in a wide geographic area along the Antarctic Peninsula; obtaining high concentrations of this metal, especially in the bearded penguin on King George Island. These levels coincide with the estimates obtained previously”, he comments. Andres Barbosa, MNCN Researcher.
“Because they are at the top of the food chain, birds like penguins are the perfect study model to measure the concentration of mercury present in Antarctica,” continues Barbosa.
Because they are at the top of the food chain, birds like 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 Madrid Protocol, a complementary agreement to the Antarctica Treaty, whose objective is to protect Antarctica against, among other threats, mining exploitation.
Today, despite more than 50 countries having adhered to the protocol, the health of one of the most primitive corners of the planet, fundamental in aspects such as the regulation of ocean currents, remains under threat.
“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 harmful effects of mercury on ecosystems, it is essential to continue analyzing its presence on the continent”, concludes Barbosa.
Motas, M., et al. (2021). “Mercury levels in penguin feathers from the Antarctic Peninsula: geographic and interspecific differences”. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18 (18), 9918. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189918
Rights: Creative Commons.