The Antarctic Treaty area will become increasingly frequented by both researchers and tourists in the future. Three main areas are likely to be impacted by this increase in use and by alterations due to climate change: the Western Antarctic Peninsula, the Ross Sea, and coastal regions of East Antarctica. From previous reports we know that penguin species are highly susceptible to a number of infectious diseases. The number of investigations into infectious diseases of penguins has continued to increase over the last 50 years. However, issues of data not being published and a lack of formal risk assessment regarding the introduction or transfer of infectious disease agents within the Antarctic Treaty System, means that our understanding is still patchy. A feather loss condition of unknown etiology, potentially due to an infectious agent, is affecting Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) on Ross Island. This requires urgent further investigation. Also of concern, is that a number of mass mortality events have occurred. The majority of these events have occurred since the year 2000 in regions that will likely be affected by climate change and increased human activity.
As long-lived seabirds, Adélie penguins are valuable as indicators of the status of marine ecosystem health and are an indicator-species used in the CEMP program. One understudied aspect of penguin biology, however, is the effect of infectious diseases on these birds. Long-term disease studies would therefore be useful as an adjunct to aid in identifying anthropogenic threats to ecosystem health within the Antarctic Treaty area.
For the above reasons, we recommend CCAMLR establish a health/disease monitoring program (including designated control sites and compilation of disease datasets) for Adélie penguins in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, the Ross Sea, and coastal regions of East Antarctica. We propose possible steps towards the goal of establishing baseline data and tracking infectious diseases in Adélie penguins, with the anticipated further increase in human activity and environmental changes in the Antarctic in mind. This information could then be used by CCAMLR to help inform management decisions.