UK Plans to Protect Wreck of Shackleton’s Endurance

Endurance Shackleton
(photo courtesy of Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic)

Published Nov 25, 2022 2:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

The debate continues on how to handle Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, which was located earlier this year in the icy waters of the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. A British charity organization revealed work has begun to develop a conservation management plan for the wreck.

Amidst opposing views from archaeologists and Shackleton’s family on the fate of the wreck sitting some nearly 10,000 feet on the seabed of Weddell Sea, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) announced that it is partnering with Historic England to devise a plan to preserve the wreck due to its unique historical significance.

The objective of the plan will be to communicate the importance of the site, identify the unique challenges and opportunities in conserving the wreck and recommend measures and guidance to secure its protection. The plan, which has been commissioned by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, will take two years to develop and will be presented to the Committee for Environmental Protection at the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting.

The initiative to protect and preserve the wreck of Endurance, which was located by a team of researchers in March this year, comes weeks after one of the archaeologists in the team said that failure to lift the ship from the bottom of the sea will result in its decaying out of existence. According to Mensun Bound, leaving the vessel on the seabed will lead to decaying due to its organic nature while rogue organizations and states could access the site and plunder the ship’s priceless historical artifacts.

The explorer’s family, led by granddaughter Alexandra Shackleton, has however maintained the wreck should remain in its current resting place. The exploration team reported that they had discovered the vessel well preserved in the Weddell Sea in March, one hundred years to the day after the burial of Shackleton at Grytviken, South Georgia.

The wreck of Endurance, the ship used by Shackleton during his 1914-16 Antarctic Expedition, was designated as a protected historic site and monument under the Antarctic Treaty System in 2019. That was the first step to protect the ship meaning that while the wreck can be surveyed and filmed, the treaty says it cannot be touched or disturbed in any way.

“The remarkable story of the Endurance is universally known and the ship’s association with Shackleton gives it global significance. Its story is one of the greatest feats of endeavor and survival ever told. Now the location is known, it is our responsibility to make sure that Endurance is protected,” said Camilla Nichol, UKAHT CEO.

She added the aim to protect the wreck is to ensure that future human activity serves only to benefit and protect the Endurance. She said the goal is to ensure that the stories associated with the ship continue to inspire and inform humanity in the future.

Endurance, a 144-foot-long wooden three-masted barquentine built in Norway, was trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea area over a century ago when Shackleton and his expedition set out to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica from the Weddell Sea via the South Pole to the Ross Sea. The vessel was trapped in the ice in January 1915, crushed, and sank 10 months later. Shackleton made a daring trip in an open boat to reach South Georgia ensuring that his 27-member crew was rescued.

“This is a unique opportunity to work on an internationally important shipwreck, which captured the attention of the world when it was discovered earlier this year deep in the Weddell Sea. We look forward to devising a plan to ensure its protection for future generations,” said Duncan Wilson, Historic England CEO.

UKAHT is a charity responsible for the conservation of heritage sites in Antarctica while Historic England is a public body that champions and protects England’s historic places, including shipwrecks in waters around the country.