Cuverville IslandErrera Channel.
Very popular for the large Gentoo penguin colony.
Rating: * * * *
Gentoo penguins are the main attraction—4,500 pairs of them breed on the long shingly beach and coves at the northern end of the island. Cuverville is home to the peninsula’s largest population of Gentoo penguins and it is worth taking the time to stop and watch these comical characters going about their daily life.
If you have seen enough penguins, it is worth going ashore for the views. Cuverville has a single landing site; it is not easy to disembark anywhere else because the terrain rises steeply to the 827 foot (252 meter) rocky dome that makes up most of the island. The views surrounding the penguins are fabulous – the rookery at the eastern end of the beach overlooks a picturesque, but tiny, rocky cove; the western rookery is perhaps even more spectacular, as the mountains of Rongé Island loom close across the narrow channel often filled with icebergs.
Where is it?
Cuverville Island stands like a stopper in the northern end of the Errera Channel, on the eastern side of the Gerlache Strait on the Antarctic peninsula.
Giving way to penguins may take up a large part of your time ashore here. If the snow or guano is deep, walking from one end of the penguins to the other could be treacherous and slow.
Up the slope, behind the scattered rookeries, territorial skuas guard their nests. Blue-eyed shags also raise young on the island’s cliffs, and Pintados, and even Snow petrels nest at the highest points. Crabeater, Weddell and Leopard seals often bask on ice trapped on shallow rocks around the island.
In late summer, when most of the snow has melted, patches of vegetation are visible: mosses and lichens, and both species of Antarctica’s flowering plants. Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia Antarctica) looks like tufts of familiar grass, while pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis) looks rather like a moss, but has tiny white/green flowers that are best photographed with a macro lens. Like all Antarctic vegetation, these plants are very slow-growing and may take years to recover from a single footstep.
Between 1992 and 1995, a group from the Scott Polar Research Institute camped on Cuverville Island, and elsewhere, to study the effects of tourists on penguins and other wildlife. The researchers found that visitors observing the code of conduct set out by International Association Antarctic Tour Operators had little effect on penguin rookeries, but other birds, notably Antarctic terns, Giant petrels and Kelp gulls, were more likely to be disturbed by the presence of humans.
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