Wreck of Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ Gets New Protections

The vessel will be preserved beneath Antarctic waters inside a sprawling restricted zone

The Endurance 1915
A photograph of the Endurance stuck in ice before it sank to the bottom of the Weddell Sea in 1915 © Royal Geographical Society-IBG

Ever since the Endurance sank in 1915, famously stranding explorer Ernest Shackleton, the vessel’s remains have been resting on the seabed off the coast of Antarctica. Now, more than a century later, the shipwreck is getting extra protection.

The U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) and Historic England have proposed a new conservation management plan that will expand the site’s protection radius from 500 meters to 1,500 meters (about a mile). The wreck will remain in situ, and nobody will be allowed to remove any artifacts from inside the restricted area.

“The perimeter update is a recognition that debris from Endurance—including crew belongings—may be strewn across a larger area of ocean floor than previously thought,” reports BBC News’ Jonathan Amos.

The Endurance’s long journey began in 1914, when Shackleton and a crew of 27 men set out from South Georgia on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. They hoped to cross the Antarctic continent by foot, passing the South Pole along the way.

However, when the ship became stuck in polar pack ice, the crew had to abandon it. They spent months on the ice, watching the Endurance flounder, before Shackleton and five others embarked on a perilous 800-mile journey in a small lifeboat to seek rescue. All of the men survived.

The location of the wreckage was a mystery until 2022, when researchers discovered the vessel at the bottom of the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula. Due to the cold temperatures, it was still in remarkable condition.

The Endurance 2022
The Endurance is protected by the cold temperatures of the Antarctic waters. © FMHT-National Geographic

Endurance sits alongside Titanic as one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world, and the story of Shackleton’s expedition and their remarkable rescue mission is of international significance,” says Camilla Nichol, UKAHT’s CEO, in a statement.

The new conservation management plan, which was recently approved by the countries that are part of the Antarctic Treaty, comes amid increased concerns about the ship’s safety. “Although the wreck is a designated historic monument and its remote location in the Weddell Sea serves as a protective factor, with warming temperatures and sea ice loss, it could become increasingly vulnerable,” says UKAHT in the statement.

In addition to rising temperatures, other potential dangers include looters, cruise ships and commercial fishing vessels. The Endurance is also covered in marine life, and marine biologists are intrigued by how its presence has affected the ecosystem on the seabed.

Looking ahead, officials are also pushing for the site to be designated as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA), which would require “a specific permit and a really good reason” to approach the wreck, as Nichol tells the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood.

If the ship earns ASPA status, Nichol hopes the decision will have a ripple effect. “There are many other wrecks in the Antarctic which are far more accessible than Endurance,” she tells BBC News, “so it could become a precedent.”

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