Antarctic Cape offers climate clues
Antarctic Cape offers climate clues

Cape Shirreff, a small and rocky peninsula on Livingston Island in Antarctica, is an oasis for Antarctic fauna, and a window into the future of our planet.

For decades, Chilean and US scientists have spent long periods at the remote portion of Antarctica, with the aim of studying the species there - such as the different types of birds, penguins and seals - and trying to decipher the effects of climate change.

"Cape Shirreff is like an oasis where many species co-exist. This offers us the opportunity not only to study each of the animals, but also the interaction among them," marine biologist Renato Borras told EFE.

This frozen peninsula approximately three kilometres long is home to communities of penguins, along with gigantic petrels, seagulls and skuas.

There are also four or five different types of seals lying on the inhospitable, stony, ash-coloured beaches that surround the peninsula.

However, the main animal found at the site is the Antarctic fur seal, a species that was hunted practically to extinction in the 19th century for its valuable pelt.

Since the 1980s, however, hunting the fur seal has been prohibited and the population has rapidly made a comeback.

Currently, Cape Shirreff is the site of the largest fur seal colony in the South Shetland Islands with thousands of members of the species.

The great biodiversity of this part of the world was the reason why the signers of the Antarctic Treaty declared it to be a specially protected zone with restrictions on tourism.

"It's fascinating that the enormous complexity of the Antarctic ecosystem can be studied in such a small area," Borras said.

Chile's Guillermo Mann Base and the US Shirreff Base are located on the peninsula, and a dozen scientists do research at each one for three or four months out of the year.

In addition to the large amount of krill in the surrounding waters, "the geography of the cape makes it one of the favourite places for reproduction and raising the mammals," said the doctoral student, who carries out his research on fur seal behaviour during the Antarctic summer.

"This place is like a window on the future. Understanding what happens here can help us predict what will occur tomorrow in other parts of the planet," he said.


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