Plan to be developed to secure future of Shackleton’s ship Endurance

A strategy is to be developed to protect and conserve the wreckage of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance. The ship used by the explorer during his 1914–1917 expedition sank 107 years ago, on November 21, 1915, after being caught in pack ice in the Weddell sea off Antarctica.

The entire crew of 27 survived and were eventually rescued the following year.

A British-led expedition, Endurance22, discovered the well-preserved wreck on March 5, 2022 at 3,008 meters below sea level.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has commissioned the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) to develop a conservation management plan.

Endurance wreck found
The Endurance tips over (Royal Geographic Society/PA)

The plan will identify the challenges of preserving the wreck – designated a protected historic site and monument under the Antarctic Treaty System – and recommend measures to ensure its protection and raise awareness of the site’s importance.

UKAHT Chief Executive Camilla Nichol said: “Endurance’s remarkable history is well known and the ship’s association with Shackleton gives it global prominence.

“His story is one of the greatest struggles and feats of survival ever told.

“Now that the location is known, it is our responsibility to ensure Endurance is protected.

“I am delighted to announce this partnership with Historic England, bringing together our shared expertise in Antarctic heritage and shipwreck protection.

Endurance wreck found
Stern rail, steering wheel and quarterdeck of the wreck (Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust/National Georgraphic/PA)

“Our goal is to ensure that future human activity is for the sole benefit and protection of Endurance, and that the stories associated with the ship continue to inspire and inform us in the future.”

During a UKAHT webinar, Dr. Endurance22 expedition leader John Shears on how he almost gave up hope of finding the ship after losing a submarine powered drone (UAV) during a previous attempt in 2019.

He said: “I was very worried, we had Day 18, the weather was rolling in, temperatures were falling, I was so worried I distracted myself from that by going to an iceberg.”

But he said he told a colleague he had a “good feeling about the day” and told him: “I think she’s under our feet.”

He continued: “I had never said that before and when we got back to the ship the speaker started blaring, I thought we had lost another UAV, another multimillion pound loss.”

He was then shown a high frequency sonar image of the wreck and told: “She was all in one piece, I was speechless and the bridge broke, everyone ran around and hugged.”

He added: “We were amazed at the condition of the ship; it is as if it sank yesterday.”

When asked if there were any plans to raise the wreck, Dr. Shears: “Trying to do that at 10,000 feet with sea ice all around is technically impossible – the very best place for this ship is the seabed, it’s done them very well for 107 years.”

Historic England marine archaeologist Hefin Meara said the management plan will examine how environmental conditions could affect the wreck.

He said: “There will be lasting effects as the site slowly decays.

Endurance wreck found
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship had not been seen since it was crushed by ice and sank in the Weddell Sea in 1915 (Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust/National Geographic/PA)

“It’s in fantastic condition, but it’s important to monitor it and see how climate change is affecting the site.”

An FCDO spokesman said: “The Endurance is well protected in its location 3,000m under an ice-covered Weddell Sea.

“However, due to climate change and shrinking sea ice, that may not last forever.

“So we have engaged the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust to work with experts to create a conservation management plan and assess whether additional conservation measures are needed.

“We have already declared it a historic site and the Antarctic Treaty members have agreed to expand the protected zone around it from 150m to 500m.

“This incredibly well-preserved ship and its artifacts are part of Shackleton’s legacy – they must be protected so they can inspire future generations.”

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