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Dr. Mercedes Santos conserving Antarctica

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Conserving Antarctica with scientist Dr. Mercedes Santos

By pairing scientists and experts in the field of conservation with Pelorus’ private yacht expeditions, we support vital research in the world’s most remote locations. Hear from biologist Dr. Mercedes Santos, who recently joined a Pelorus client yacht expedition to Antarctica.

Home to a thriving ecosystem – from whales and penguins to microscopic phytoplankton, Antarctica is a continent of new discoveries – but it’s also a continent that faces severe danger as a result of climate change. Santos is a researcher of the Argentinean Antarctic institute, although she is currently on license while working as the National Director of Marine Protected Areas – part of a joint Argentine-Chilean proposal to turn a 670,000 square kilometre area west of the Antarctic Peninsula into a Marine Protected Area. She recently joined a Pelorus client yacht expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula, which provided an excellent base for her to carry out her research. Megan Williams from the Pelorus Foundation sat down with Santos to hear all about her trip and critical conservation efforts in Antarctica.

Travelling to Antarctica with Pelorus

Santos typically spends three to four months in Antarctica at a time, so in comparison, it was great to see the progress and research that could be achieved on such a short trip when joining a private yacht charter. As well as being able to check cameras and record a breeding sight, this trip was crucial in giving Santos the opportunity to continue spreading awareness about the Marine Protected Area she is working to establish in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Chinstrap penguins in Antarctica Chinstrap penguin close up in Antarctica
Penguin colony in Antarctica Seal in Antarctica

What is a Marine Protected Area?

“This is a proposal Argentina is working on together with Chile and it’s being discussed in CCAMLR which is The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.  To adopt the MPA (Marine Protected Area) you need consensus from every country part of the CCAMLR so it’s quite the challenge. We have been working on this since 2012 and it’s come a long way but still, we don’t have an MPA – but it’s necessary to keep trying.” 25 countries as well as the European Union are involved in this mission. The MPA seeks to lessen the stress on the ecosystem and wildlife, thus enabling better recovery from climate change. Research shows that the Antarctic Peninsula is where the negative impact of climate change is greatest and it is also where the largest krill fishery operates.

As part of their research, Santos and her team study breeding and feeding ecology of penguins in Antarctica, focusing particularly on three species of penguin: chinstrap, gentoos and Adélies. While gentoos are increasing in number due to their flexible behaviour, Adélies and chinstraps are declining in population between 40 and 70 percent, notably due to the impact of climate change. This is one reason why Santos’ research is so important. 

Mercedes Santos conserving Antarctica

“We want to build resilience, to protect biodiversity and to have a strong research plan that can track and follow the changes of fishing activity. If we do not have a better understanding now of the effect then, in time, it’s going to be more difficult, so it’s better to understand this now – sooner rather than later.” 

DR. MERCEDES SANTOS
National Director of Marine Protected Areas of Argentina

Why the relationship between luxury travel and scientific research is so important

While scientific research is happening all the time, it is expensive and logistically challenging. “Particularly last year it has been very difficult to put the people on the ground in Antarctica to do the research.” Ultimately, tour operators like Pelorus are beneficial in supporting scientific work and giving scientists like Santos the opportunity to carry out their research. In addition, guests are able to witness and participate in such incredible, world-transforming discoveries – it is awe-inspiring to have the chance to see this for yourself.

Antarctic yacht expedition conservation

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