Pesticides found in penguin colonies

Black and white penguin with lines of excrement radiating outward from the nest.
Droppings radiating outward from the nest show how contaminants could transfer to the ground near its nests. (Photo: M. Low)

16 November 2007

Polar regions are exposed to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) through long-range atmospheric transport by global distillation – evaporation in warmer parts of the world and condensation in colder places. This is thought to be the main mechanism for moving POPs around the planet.

Global distillation is a one-way process that concentrates POPs at high latitudes. What happens to the POPs once they get there?

Concentrations of POPs in soils from Adélie penguin colonies at Hop Island were found to be 10- to 100-times higher than in reference locations.

Our findings show for the first time that animals (Adélie penguins) which spend their entire life in the Antarctic are capable of concentrating POPs that have been transported to the region by global distillation.

By concentrating these chemicals they are creating local ‘hot spots’ of contamination. This information significantly adds to the overall picture of where in the global environment these persistent contaminants will eventually end up.

Journal article (abstract only):

Laurence Roosens, Nico Van Den Brink, Martin Riddle et al (2007). Penguin colonies as secondary sources of contamination with persistent organic pollutants. J. Environ. Monit. 9: 822 – 825. DOI: 10.1039/b708103k