Picture: Royal Navy.
Arctic/Antarctic

Protector and penguins: Navy research ship in cutting-edge climate research

Experts from the UK and US are studying penguin colonies in the South Sandwich Islands.

Picture: Royal Navy.

Royal Navy research ship, HMS Protector, is helping international cutting-edge penguin and climate studies in one of the world's most remote areas.

Scientists from the UK and US are observing colonies in the South Sandwich Islands to examine what effect global warming is having on the flightless birds.

The chain of islands – sovereign UK Overseas Territory – which lie more than 1,300 miles east of the Falklands, is home to about three million penguins.

Experts are hoping to better understand global warming's impact on them, by recording their behaviour using drones.

The Royal Navy says expeditions to the area are "once a decade", with Captain Michael Wood, HMS Protector's Commanding Officer, saying: "Visits by ships to these territories is exceptionally infrequent and hazardous."

The ship's sailors have had to battle glacier-covered volcanic mountains, freezing seas and gales.

Picture: Royal Navy.

Dr Mark Belchier, Director of Fisheries and Environment, Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, said: "The opportunity to visit any of the South Sandwich Islands to conduct research on penguins – or any other species – is incredibly limited.

"Any additional data that can be collected opportunistically is incredibly valuable in order to determine trends in population sizes for the various species that live there."

As well as observing the penguins, Protector – normally based in Plymouth – is gathering scientific data on Antarctic waters and updating charts used by seafarers, or in the case of some parts of the South Sandwich Islands, mapping the area for the first time.

She will remain in the region until April, when winter in the Southern Hemisphere sets in.