Mass starvation has wiped out thousands of penguin chicks in Antarctica, with unusually thick sea ice forcing their parents to forage further for food in what conservationists Friday called a “catastrophic breeding failure”.

French scientists, supported by WWF, have been studying a colony of 18,000 pairs of Adelie penguins in East Antarctica since 2010 and discovered only two chicks survived the most recent breeding season in early 2017.

They attributed the disaster to extensive sea ice late in the summer, meaning the adult penguins had to travel further to find food, with the chicks dying as they waited.

Yan Ropert-Coudert, senior penguin scientist at Dumont D’Urville research station, adjacent to the colony, said the region was impacted by environmental changes linked to the breakup of the Mertz glacier.

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