Antique tall ship sets sail to recreate Darwin’s voyage

Oosterschelde (Oosterschelde Foundation)

It has been almost 200 years since a young Charles Darwin set sail on a voyage of discovery aboard HMS Beagle. Now, environmentalists are following in his wake by undertaking a two-year journey aboard a vintage schooner, which will visit four continents while studying endemic wildlife and developing projects to protect species discovered by Darwin.

The tall ship Oosterschelde departed Plymouth on the UK’s south coast on Tuesday (15 August 2023), for a two-year journey of science and discovery.

The 50m antique vessel is recreating Darwin’s original route, as part of a conservation project dubbed Darwin200. The 40,000 nautical mile (74,080 kilometre) Darwin200 expedition hopes to anchor in 32 ports, including all the major ports visited by Beagle.

Stewart McPherson, director of the scheme, says the Darwin200 mission has three purposes.

“We are selecting one incredible young conservationist from each of 200 countries and states around the world and training them to become the leaders in the world of tomorrow to change the world,” he tells the BBC.

“We are creating a raft of educational activities every week for 100 weeks called the world’s most exciting classroom.”

The group is undertaking eight research projects to study “nature and conservation” around the planet, he adds. “It’s not just about problems, this is about solutions, it’s about how all of us, every single one of us, can make positive change to make a better world for tomorrow.”

The young naturalist Darwin boarded Beagle in Plymouth on 26 December 1831, on a journey that would eventually lead him to uncover the theory of evolution. Oosterschelde is around double the length of Beagle, and is operating as a floating laboratory in port and at sea.

Around 200 of the top young naturalists and conservationists from around the world — most aged between 18 and 25 — will meet along the way to take part in the Darwin200 project.

The group will travel to locations including the Galapagos archipelago, where Darwin observed that related bird species differ from island to island — one of the founding principles of the theory he laid out in his seminal book On the Origin of Species.

Patrons of the project include Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter – botanist Sarah Darwin – and renowned British primatologist Jane Goodall.

“We all know we’re in the midst of the sixth great extinction with a lot of doom and gloom about the problems facing the environment, climate change and loss of biodiversity,” Goodall said in an interview with Reuters.

“This voyage will give many people an opportunity to see there is still time to make change.”

Main image courtesy of Oosterschelde Foundation.

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