For years, scientists thought Adélie penguins — one of the most common species in the Antarctic Peninsula — faced a population decline. But with the help of some poop, researchers have found a huge new colony.
In 2014, NASA researchers noticed an unusual amount of penguin droppings on the Danger Islands — a remote area that was not considered an important penguin habitat. The team wasn't sure how many penguins were there, so they set out to count them.
When the team got to the islands, they found thousands of penguins nesting at the landing site. And when they sent up a drone to take pictures, they were surprised to find more than 1.5 million penguins living there.
Now, researchers think parts of the islands should be considered for protected areas. They say as climate change gets worse and melts parts of the Antarctic, the Danger Islands could become a critical penguin breeding ground.
RELATED: Adelie penguins in Antarctica
Adelie penguins in Antarctica
Adelie penguins in Antarctica
Adelie penguins stand atop a block of melting ice on a rocky shoreline at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, in East Antarctica, January 1, 2010. Picture taken January 1, 2010. REUTERS/Pauline Askin
An Adelie penguin stands atop a block of melting ice near the French station at Dumont dÃUrville in East Antarctica January 23, 2010. Picture taken January 23, 2010. REUTERS/Pauline Askin/File photo
A pair of Adelie penguins are pictured at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica, December 28, 2009. REUTERS/Pauline Askin/File Photo
Adelie penguins stand atop ice near the French station at Dumont dÃUrville in East Antarctica, January 22, 2010. Picture taken January 22, 2010. REUTERS/Pauline Askin/File photo
Two Adelie penguins stand atop a block of melting ice on a rocky shoreline at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, in East Antarctica in this January 1, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Pauline Askin/Files
Adelie penguins walk behind Weddell seals lying atop ice at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica, in this picture taken December 31, 2009. Antarctica pact partners have set up a new protected geological site on the frozen continent to preserve rare minerals that could shine a spotlight on the region's history and evolution over millions of years. At a meeting in Brazil in May 2014, the signatories to the Antarctic Treaty designated the Larsemann Hills region of the continent as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area. Picture taken December 31, 2009. REUTERS/Pauline Askin (ANTARCTICA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)
An Adelie penguin is pictured at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica in this December 16, 2009 file photo. Scientists have discovered a new strain of avian flu in the Antarctic, after testing a group of Adelie penguins, according to an Australian-based researcher. "We found that this virus was unlike anything else detected in the world," Aeron Hurt of the World Health Organization's Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza told Reuters from Melbourne on May 6, 2014. Picture taken December 16, 2009. REUTERS/Pauline Askin/Files (ANTARCTICA - Tags: ANIMALS DISASTER ENVIRONMENT HEALTH)
An Adelie penguin is pictured at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica in this December 14, 2009 file photo. Scientists have discovered a new strain of avian flu in the Antarctic, after testing a group of Adelie penguins, according to an Australian-based researcher. "We found that this virus was unlike anything else detected in the world," Aeron Hurt of the World Health Organization's Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza told Reuters from Melbourne on May 6, 2014. Picture taken December 14, 2009. REUTERS/Pauline Askin/Files (ANTARCTICA - Tags: ANIMALS DISASTER ENVIRONMENT HEALTH)
Two Adelie penguins stand on a block of melting ice atop a rocky shoreline at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica, in this picture taken January 1, 2010. At age 34, Rachael Robertson accepted the biggest challenge of her life: to lead a large, 12-month expedition in Antarctica. Two months on, she found herself having to ask the team of 120 how they managed to get through a year's supply of condoms in just eight weeks. Robertson, a former chief ranger for the national parks service in Australia's Victoria state, spoke to Reuters about her book "Leading on the Edge" and how she developed a unique style of leadership using a technique called "no triangles". To match story BOOKS-ANTARCTICA/LEADERSHIP Picture taken January 1, 2010. REUTERS/Pauline Askin (ANTARCTICA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)
Adelie penguins breed on Cormorant Island near Palmer Station, Antarctica, and on nearby islands in smaller numbers than in previous years. Some researchers attribute the decline to climate change on the frozen continent.
**POOR QUALITY DOCUMENT**
Adelie penguins make there way to the water in the Cape Evans region of
Antarctica in this February 2002 photograph. Nearby Cape Crozier is
home to more than 100,000 pairs of the penguins, which were feared to
have lost as much as a third of their population through starvation and
lack of breeding. But a discovery of a large colony of the birds has
raised hopes that they have not been badly affected by a huge iceberg,
which along with an increase in sea ice, was feared to have made it
hard for the birds to find food for their chicks. Picture taken in
February 2002. REUTERS/Mark Baker
Adelie penguins in Antarctica are photographed in this January 8, 2005 file photo. The pesticide DDT, banned decades ago in much of the world, still shows up in penguins in Antarctica, probably due to the chemical's accumulation in melting glaciers, a sea bird expert said on May 9, 2008. REUTERS/Heidi Geisz/Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Handout (ANTARCTICA). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Two Adelie penguins rest on the shores of Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica December 13, 2009. Getting to and from work can be annoying if you hit traffic, but for Mireille Raccurt, it takes more than 10 days of flying and sailing through treacherous seas to get to her job. Picture taken December 13, 2009. To match Reuters Life! story ANTARCTICA-WORK/PENGUINS REUTERS/Pauline Askin (ANTARCTICA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS SOCIETY)
An Adelie penguin arrives at the New Harbor research station near McMurdo Station in Antarctica on November 11, 2016.
Secretary of State John Kerry is travelling to Antarctica, New Zealand, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and will attend the APEC summit in Peru later in the month. / AFP PHOTO / AFP POOL / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
PAULET ISLAND, ANTARCTICA - UNDATED: *** EXCLUSIVE *** Adelie penguins with chick on Paulet Island, Antarctica. A stunning new book by a renowned British wildlife photographer will melt your heart - with images of family love between members of the animal kingdom. One heart-melting photo shows a baby orangutan, in Borneo, Kalimantan, perfectly mimicking its mother's hand movements - just like a toddler. In another a tiny elephant hides at the feet of its family - sheltering from pounding rain. 'My Favourite Animal Families' by Steve Bloom showcases some of his best pictures of baby animals over the past 14 years. On his travels to get these images Steve, from Kent, has taken in every continent - including two trips to Antarctica. Accompanied by text by author David Henry Wilson, whose works include the popular 'Jeremy James' series, the book is aimed at kids and talks the readers through aspects of family life in the animal kingdom. But the pictures are so spectacular they will appeal to people of all ages. 'My Favourite Animal Families' from Thames & Hudson is available from all good bookshops on August 16 for ï¿½9.99 (Photo by stevebloom.com / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
Adelie penguins on ice floes in the South Orkney Islands, Antarctica. Digitially manipulated image. Composited from multiple images. (Photo by: Alan J. Scullard/VW PICS/UIG via Getty Images)