Penguin colony at risk as Somerset-sized iceberg bears down on British overseas territory

Several species face starvation if the icy giant blocks access to feeding grounds

A Magellanic Penguin on the shores of Chile, one of the several penguin species found on South Georgia
Magellanic Penguins - pictured on the shores of Chile - are one of several species found on South Georgia
(Image credit: VANDERLEI ALMEIDA Vanderlie Almeida/AFP)

An iceberg as large as Somerset is on a collision course with a British overseas territory that is home to thousands of penguins and seals.

The A68a iceberg, thought to be the largest in the world, “is now on a direct path to South Georgia”, an island of around the same size in the South Atlantic, The Telegraph reports. And “there’s a strong possibility the berg could now ground and anchor itself offshore of the wildlife haven”, posing a “grave threat” to local species, adds the BBC.

“Ecosystems can and will bounce back of course, but there’s a danger here that if this iceberg gets stuck, it could be there for ten years,” Professor Geraint Tarling of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) told the broadcaster.

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That could prove disastrous for the island’s penguins and seals, because a “close-in iceberg has massive implications for where land-based predators might be able to forage”, he explained. During pup- and chick-rearing, the distance that the animals have to travel to find food, in the form of fish and krill, is of paramount importance.

“If they have to do a big detour, it means they’re not going to get back to their young in time to prevent them starving to death in the interim,” Tarling added.

After South Georgia was hit by another iceberg back in 2004, “countless dead penguin chicks and seal pups were found on local beaches”, the BBC reports.

Other species are affected by such collisions too.

Dr. Andrew Fleming, also from the BAS, told The Independent that “it’s not just the impact on the animals that live on the island, but any iceberg grounding is scouring the seafloor”.

“You can see these massive scourings of the seafloor where the keel of the iceberg drags through, and of course, that’s not good news for any animals and the so-called benthos [the flora and fauna of the sea floor].”

Experts tracking the A68a are hoping that sea currents may push the frozen giant away from the island and into warmer waters further north where it would be likely to break up.

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