Nations are trying to protect the Shackleton ship from damage

Nations are trying to protect the Shackleton ship from damage

A 500 meter perimeter will be implemented to help protect Endurance, the ship known to have been lost by explorer Ernest Shackleton in Antarctica.

The ship’s position on the bottom of the Weddell Sea was finally identified in March, 107 years after it sank.

Member states of the Antarctic Treaty have already declared the wreck, which lies at a depth of 3,000 m, as a Historic Site and Monument (HSM).

Now they have asked for a management plan to guide ongoing conservation.

This is created by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT). It will set out the types of restrictions and responsibilities that will be imposed on anyone who approaches endurance sports in the future.

A permit is already required to visit the ship.

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Remote-controlled submersibles were used to find the wreck

It is noteworthy that the contracting parties have agreed to publish the exact coordinates of the wreck at 68°44’21” S, 52°19’47” W.

Given the way some marine archaeological sites have been plundered in the past, a little blurring might have been considered more appropriate. But the site’s overall inaccessibility because it’s covered by multi-year sea ice is a unique deterrent, says Amanda Milling, Minister for Polar Regions in the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

“Right now the best protection is its location 3,000m under an ice-covered Weddell Sea,” she told BBC News.

“This may not last forever, not least because of climate change and disappearing sea ice. We have therefore commissioned the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust to work with experts to draw up a conservation management plan and to assess whether additional conservation measures are required.

“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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Icebreaker Agulhas II seen from space: The Weddell Sea is regularly covered with frozen floes

The endurance story is a story that has captivated the world for decades.

It tells how Shackleton got his men to safety against all odds when their expedition ship was trapped in the Weddell Sea in 1915 and then riddled with ice.

The discovery of the ship on March 5 of this year was nothing short of a sensation.

It was considered perhaps the most difficult wreck to find in the world.

The Endurance22 project, led by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, accomplished this feat using robotic submersibles launched from the South African icebreaker Agulhas II.

The wood of the sunken ship was unblemished. The hull recalled its condition, seen in photos taken just days before it was plunged more than a century ago.

The new 500m perimeter was established to include any objects that may have become detached from Endurance as it descended to the seabed. This includes parts of the ship (although it looks very intact on the submersible scans) and all the crew’s belongings.

The future management plan may include extending the perimeter several hundred meters up into the water column and possibly to the surface.

The purpose would be to subject activity in this three-dimensional space to tight, permission-driven controls.

Today, with the brutal ice conditions that persist in the Weddell Sea, such activity will be few and far between. But how long?

Within weeks of the discovery, this correspondent received a message from a tour company offering its paid passengers “a unique opportunity to view the wreck for themselves.”

Such a prospect is disconnected from reality today, but that may not always be the case.

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“As you know, tourism is growing around the Antarctic Peninsula and people are looking for new opportunities and new adventures, and trips to the Weddell Sea will definitely be an option. But it will be a while before then, I think as ice conditions change for a superyacht to venture that deep into the Weddell Sea,” said Camilla Nichol, CEO of UKAHT.

“Perhaps the greatest threat for the future is longline fishing or any type of fishing activity in this area. If left unchecked, accidental damage to the wreck could result.”

Endurance’s status as an Antarctic Historic Site and Monument meant that Endurance22 had to promise not to remove any artifacts. Without that commitment, the search team would not have received approval from the FCDO.

Others will no doubt want to make a follow-up visit. For deep-sea biologists, the ship would be a fascinating study. Stamina is now capped by all types of organisms, using it as a platform to feed on each morsel of food moving through the water current.

Now it’s time to figure out how this type of access might work.

Prof Mike Meredith of the British Antarctic Survey, speaking at a recent meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for the polar regions, said: “Due to many factors, a large reduction in sea ice has recently been recorded and 2022 was the lowest recorded minimum in the Weddell Sea. There is no doubt that the effects of climate change on sea ice coverage will make the Endurance wreck more accessible in the future.”

UKAHT expects there will be a management plan for consideration by Antarctic Treaty members at a meeting next year.



  • December 1914: Endurance leaves South Georgia

  • February 1915: Ship is thoroughly iced

  • October 1915: The ship’s timbers begin to break

  • November 1915: Stamina disappears under the ice

  • April 1916: The fleeing crew reaches Elephant Island

  • May 1916: Shackleton goes to South Georgia for help

  • Aug 1916: A support ship arrives at Elephant Island

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