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The Endurance trapped in ice during Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1916. Alamy Stock Photo/Frank Hurley
Weddell Sea

Kildare explorer Ernest Shackleton's shipwreck Endurance given extra protection

Shackleton and his men had been stranded on a tiny island off the coast of Antarctica when ship Endurance had been swallowed by ice.


EXTRA PROTECTION HAS been given to Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated ship Endurance, which lies at the bottom of the Weddell Sea within Antarctica, 3,000 metres below sea level.

The ship, which was crushed by ice and sank in November 1915, will now be afforded protection in the form of an extension of the designated area protected, from 500 metres to 1,500 metres, to ensure the full debris field is protected. 

It is in one of the most remote parts of the world, making it one of the world’s most inaccessible historic sites, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) said.

“The ship is currently protected as an Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty,” UKAHT said.

It said that the sub-zero temperatures and absence of certain kinds of marine biological organisms due to the extreme cold mean that the site has preserved in good condition.

“Access to the wreck must be preserved to protect the integrity of the site,” it said. “Therefore, all future research will be geared around enhancing the significance of Endurance.”

The ship was discovered in 2022, by an expedition entitled Endurance22.

Shackleton led the 28-man team of explorers to safety on Elephant Island. He and five others set off from Elephant Island on a lifeboat named the James Caird. Their ordeal came to an end on May 10 when they arrived at South Georgia’s King Haakon Bay.

map-of-the-shackleton-expedition-in-antarctica-onboard-of-the-endurance Map of the Shackleton expedition in Antarctica. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It took almost four months and two failed attempts before Shackleton was able to mount a successful rescue operation, eventually reaching his stranded crewmen on Elephant Island aboard Chilean steam tug the Yelcho.

vintage-photo-circa-1910s-of-british-antarctic-explorer-sir-ernest-henry-shackleton-1874-1922 Ernest Shackleton. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

All 28 men survived.

The UK is responsible for the shipwreck and the long-term management of the site.

A Conservation Management Plan (CMP) devised by the UKAHT was submitted to the Antarctic Treat Consultative Meeting, which was held in May. 

The aim is to manage, conserve and protect the shipwreck by implementing the plan and ultimately seeking an Antarctic Specially Protected Area designation, it said.

Risks to the shipwreck

UKAHT outlined several potential threats that it believes could impact Endurance. 

It outlined a lack of published data, and subsea technology use beneath extensive ice cover having limited testing, and therefore could cause accidental damage or risk of collision.

Climate change was outlined as an area which could have consequences on the “long-term survival” of the wreck. 

“Increased water temperature and ocean acidification could result in accelerated biological and chemical decay of the shipwreck,” it said.

Potential for fishing gear to become entangled in the wreck was highlighted, as well as tourism, given that any attempt to visit the wreck could cause damage.

A danger that people or organisations will attempt to recover artefacts from the wreck without authorisation was also identified.

Key conservation management principles

UKAHT has six key conservation management principles outlined for the care and maintenance of the shipwreck Endurance.

img2.thejournal The launch of the James Caird. Frank Hurley Frank Hurley

All activity relating to the site should be taken with the aim to preserve or enhance the significant of the site. There will be a presumption in favour of non-destructive survey is preference to any recovery of the wreck structure or artefacts.

The biodiversity, habitats, and ecology of the wreck will be studied, recorded, and conserved.

Long term challenges to the significance of the wreck will be identified, and mitigation methods explored with stakeholders ad partner organisations.

Access to the wreck site will be managed to ensure that activities are not detrimental to the significance of the site.

The significance of the site will be enhanced by maximising opportunities for knowledge enhancement and its public dissemination.

The ongoing management of the wreck will be transparent and collaborative and based on clear policies outlined in the CMP.

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