Natural Science

published : 2023-08-24

Historic Voyage: Retracing Darwin's Route 200 Years Later Aboard a Dutch Ship

Project Darwin200 Assembles Young Naturalists from around the Globe to Study Species Documented by Darwin

A close-up of a ship's written name – Oosterschelde – moored at the south coast of England, ready to set sail for retracing the historic route of Darwin's voyage. Segulls are flying over it. (Taken with Nikon D850).

A schooner, the Dutch ship Oosterschelde, cast off its moorings and set a course fuelled by the echoes of history. Its departure from the southern coast of England was met with the enthusiastic cheers of onlookers, all aware of the significance of this two-year journey, a retracing of one undertaken almost two centuries ago by a young naturalist named Charles Darwin.

The same waters that carried Darwin's HMS Beagle would be plied by the Oosterschelde, its mission as monumental as Darwin's. Not only would it sail in the wake of history, but it would also carry within its hold the hope for the future: a contingent of youthful scientists eager to pay homage to Darwin's groundbreaking work on the theory of evolution by studying the species he discovered.

A keen group of young naturalists and conservationists, bustling with energy on the deck of the Oosterschelde. Amidst them, the mission leader Stewart McPherson, imploring his young team with a reassuring glance. The setting sun on the backdrop of an expansive view of the Atlantic lends a sense of historical gravitas to the capture. (Taken with Sony A7R III)

The leader of this mission, Stewart McPherson, issued a bold proclamation, 'This is about hope, it's about future, and it's about changing the world.' As the vessel serves as a floating laboratory, the participants, a group of budding naturalists and conservationists mostly between 18 and 25 years old, are ready to ensure that the species discovered by Darwin won't be on the brink of extinction.

Charting a trajectory similar to Darwin's original voyage, the Oosterschelde's maiden stop will be in the Canary Islands, before crossing the Atlantic to dock at Brazil. The journey will encompass sailing down the eastern seaboard of South America, traversing up the western coast, and treading the waters around the Galapagos Islands, the site of many of Darwin's key discoveries.

An impressive panoramic view of the Galapagos Islands from the Oosterschelde - a nod to Darwin's crucial discoveries around these lands, with a silhouette of Sarah Darwin, her hands clasping a notebook, standing on the deck and looking out at the Islands in silent contemplation. (Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

Sarah Darwin, a botanist and descendant of Charles Darwin, lent her voice in support of the mission, appreciating the thematic linkage of her great-great-grandfather's voyage with contemporary environmental change issues. She echoed Charles's ethos of understanding humanity's place within nature, emphasizing the interconnection between humans and the natural world.

Later, the voyage will wind its way to Australia and New Zealand, before resuming the journey back to South America. Crossing the Atlantic once again, South Africa will be the penultimate port of call before the Oosterschelde finally docks back on England's shore, much like the Beagle did all those years ago.