Protecting Endurance: our conservation plan for Shackleton’s iconic ship

Key guidance includes preserving the wreck in situ, extending the protected zone and giving the site protected status under the Antarctic Treaty.

Protecting Endurance: our conservation plan for Shackleton’s iconic ship

Key guidance includes preserving the wreck in situ, extending the protected zone and giving the site protected status under the Antarctic Treaty.

Protecting Endurance: our conservation plan for Shackleton’s iconic ship


Key guidance includes preserving the wreck in situ, extending the protected zone and giving the site protected status under the Antarctic Treaty.

We are proud to announce the Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for one of the most famous shipwrecks of all time – Shackleton’s Endurance – has been published and is available to view on our dedicated partner site,

Led by UKAHT, in partnership with Historic England, the CMP acts as a shared vision and framework to inspire an international effort to protect and promote understanding of Endurance, for current and future generations. 

The CMP was commissioned by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) following the discovery of the wreck of Endurance at the bottom of the Weddell Sea on 5 March 2022 by the Endurance22 expedition.

The Endurance was found in 2022 (Credit: © FMHT-National Geographic)

After a comprehensive consultation with key stakeholders and a field of international experts, it was presented to the Committee for Environmental Protection at the 2024 Antarctic Treaty meeting. The CMP, presented by the UK, was co-sponsored by Chile, USA, New Zealand and South Africa and was welcomed by the Committee. It is now available to the public as an ongoing resource.  

A key objective of the CMP is to ensure the preservation of the wreck in situ. Although the wreck is a designated historic monument (HSM) 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. Risk factors identified in the CMP include unauthorised visits using new subsea technologies (ROVs, AUVs and submersibles), tourist visits, commercial fishing and unauthorised recovery activity of artefacts.  

The wreck is located in the Weddell Sea (Credit: © British Antarctic Survey)

Two immediate actions have been recommended; the first is to extend the radius of the protected area of the HSM from 500m to 1,500m, to ensure all distributed material on the seabed is incorporated. This was recommended for approval at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) in May 2024. As a HSM this larger area provides good protection for the wreck and the whole of the identified debris field, but whilst it does not go as far as prohibiting visits to the area it does stipulate standards of behaviour and permitted activity. 

The second recommendation is to further enhance the protection of the site under the Antarctic Treaty through designation as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA). Early discussions commenced in the ATCM and a formal application will be pursued in 2025. Such designation would provide the wreck with the highest level of protection in the Antarctic Treaty System. Entry into the designated area would be prohibited unless certain conditions are satisfied in the ASPA management plan to enable a permit to be issued. This would make Endurance the first marine heritage site to be considered for ASPA designation.

Until an ASPA application is approved, the CMP framework states that any visits to the wreck site must have an Antarctic permit provided by a competent authority, have clear objectives which serve to either preserve or improve our understanding of the site, and must also be non-intrusive, unless proven vital for scientific study or for the protection of the wreck itself. With regards to tourism, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has lent their support and requested its Members not to plan any activities above or below the surface of the sea in the vicinity of the wreck of Endurance

Camilla Nichol, CEO, UKAHT comments: 

“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. Collaborating with Historic England on this has been a great opportunity to combine our expertise and I think the resulting Conservation Management Plan supports our aims to ensure that future human activity will only benefit and preserve Endurance.  Our ambition to give the site further protection through designation as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area will give us the greatest chance of securing this outstanding heritage and its captivating story for generations to come.”

Transparency and collaboration in the name of science and conservation is also a key theme of the plan. Currently, the wreck is beautifully preserved and in a remarkable condition in the Weddell Sea with marine biologists particularly excited about the opportunities the “artificial reef” presents to study Antarctic marine life. But if water temperatures continue to rise and the ocean acidifies, it could result in accelerated biological and chemical decay of the shipwreck. The CMP sets out guidance that any future projects directed at the site should publish their data and observations so that the trajectory of any changes to site conditions can be monitored. In addition, any expeditions that are granted a permit will need to ensure that recorded data is made publicly available within two years of the completion of the expedition.   

The Endurance sank in 1915 after being crushed in the ice (Credit: © Royal Geographical Society-IBG)

The CMP also identifies huge potential to broaden access through digital technologies and enhance the understanding of Endurance and its story for current and future generations. Given the logistical complexities and high cost of visiting the wreck physically, it is hoped that Endurance could become one of the most accessible wrecks in the world through digital technology. This includes the eagerly anticipated National Geographic documentary of the Endurance22 mission due to be aired in 2024, the release of the 3D scan imagery, the future development of a “virtual dive trail” and other virtual visits to enable the public to explore the beauty of Endurance themselves. 

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: 

“It has been a privilege to partner with UKAHT on this project to establish the ongoing management of such an internationally important shipwreck. We look forward to continuing to work together, ensuring this site is protected for us all well into the future.”

This CMP will be reviewed and updated every five years, or sooner if new evidence comes to light so that it continues to reflect the conditions and the state of knowledge pertaining to the site. 

To learn more, visit

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