Covered in ice for much of the year and with seawater temperatures below zero, who would guess that beneath the surface, the Ross Sea is a world teeming with life? A new series of stamps celebrating the creatures of the Antarctic Sea Floor in the Ross Sea was issued by the New Zealand Post. Penguins feature on a new set of stamps, released in November by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands in order to celebrate the remote Zavodovski Island in the South Sandwich Islands.

A series of new stamps shows the colourful side to Antarctica. The 2016 Ross Dependency series released by New Zealand post celebrates creatures of the Antarctic sea floor.
A series of new stamps shows the colourful side to Antarctica. The 2016 Ross Dependency series released by New Zealand post celebrates creatures of the Antarctic sea floor.

A bright pink sea star and an orange sea spider are among the strange creatures of the Antarctic sea floor featured on new stamps from New Zealand Post. The Ross Dependency 2016 commemorative stamps, developed with the assistance of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and Antarctica New Zealand, show a world teeming with life beneath the surface of the Ross Sea.

New Zealand Post Concept and Design Specialist, Helcia Knap, says people will be interested to see and learn about the colourful creatures that live on the Antarctic sea floor. “Most people associate icy whites and blues with Antarctica, so we think they’ll be amazed by the vibrant, colourful life below the ice,” says Helcia Knap. The spectacular sea floor animals are well adapted to life in a cold, and often dark, environment. “There is concern about how a rapidly changing ocean will affect these animals, and how they might cope with warmer sea temperatures and more acidic water,” says Antarctica New Zealand General Manager Communications Jeanine Foster. “These stamps show just how beautiful and unique these creatures are.”

The seafloor of the Ross Sea region is covered in ice for much of the year, but many benthic sea creatures live and thrive there. For example, there are over 35 species of starfish or sea stars. This is the most common one in Antarctica. It occurs over a wide range of depths, and is sometimes found in large numbers. (Picture: Rod Budd, NIWA)
The seafloor of the Ross Sea region is covered in ice for much of the year, but many benthic sea creatures live and thrive there. For example, there are over 35 species of starfish or sea stars. This is the most common one in Antarctica. It occurs over a wide range of depths, and is sometimes found in large numbers. (Picture: Rod Budd, NIWA)

The images were captured by NIWA marine ecologists either on dives or by using a Deep Towed Imaging System (DTIS) which was developed by NIWA to record video and still photographs at depths down to 6,000 metres. “The Ross Sea seafloor is home to thousands of animals, many of which cannot be found anywhere else,” says NIWA marine ecologist Dr Vonda Cummings. “We study these amazing creatures to gain some insight into the role they play at the base of the food chain and how that might be changing. We are delighted to share some of the incredible diversity we see under the sea with a much wider audience.”

In Antarctica starfish are the top predators. Divers will encounter a colourful world under the ice. (Picture: Jim McClintock)
In Antarctica starfish are the top predators. Divers will encounter a colourful world under the ice. (Picture: Jim McClintock)

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands has issued a set of stamps featuring Zavodovski Island. This uninhabited volcanic island in the northernmost part of the South Sandwich Islands is home to around a million pairs of breeding chinstrap penguins, making it one of the world's largest penguin colonies. The stamp series features Macaroni penguins, chinstrap penguins and chicks and Mt Curry the volcanic cone in the west of the island.

The stamp series issued by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands features Macaroni penguins, chinstrap penguins and chicks and Mt Curry the volcanic cone in the west of the island.
The stamp series issued by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands features Macaroni penguins, chinstrap penguins and chicks and Mt Curry the volcanic cone in the west of the island.

The stamp issue marks the release of the BBC’s Planet Earth II, fronted by Sir David Attenborough. The film team visited Zavodovski Island in January 2015. Few humans have ever set foot on the island, let alone attempted comprehensively documenting the daily lives of the 1.5 million or so penguins that breed here. The resulting footage is the first filming of this enormous colony and the first full portrait of the daily lives of these penguins, as they do battle with spectacular, and often deadly, waves in their mission to feed and raise their chicks.

There are an estimated 750,000 breeding pairs of chinstrap penguins, plus adolescent non-breeders and chicks. Towards the end of January, the chicks are growing so quickly that both parents have to go to sea to feed. They leave the chicks in crèches, beginning as small groups of birds and increasing until they are huddles of ten or twenty individuals and more. Although Zavodovski is best known as the largest chinstrap penguin colony in the world, several hundred thousand macaroni penguins also breed on the island.

On the west side of Zavodovksi Island is the volcanic cone of Mount Curry which daily spews out volcanic clouds. The plateau to the east of it – where the largest aggregation of penguins is found – is known as Asphyxia Plain, and there are other sub-colonies at Stench Point and in the northwest of the Island.

Source: New Zealand Post, South Georgia News