Docked in the South Atlantic port of Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, is an unusual vessel making a very special voyage. The 106-year-old, three-masted sailing ship “Oosterschelde” is on a two-year journey retracing the footsteps of British naturalist Charles Darwin, almost 200 years after he embarked on his famous voyage aboard the HMS Beagle that did much to inspire his theory of evolution.
Oosterschelde departed from Plymouth in England last August, and is traveling a simplified version of Darwin’s route, from England to Australia. The ship is making landfall at 32 ports around the world, including key locations where Darwin visited, such as the Galapagos Islands and the Falkland Islands; its mission — to empower young conservationists.
The Darwin200 Global Voyage was cofounded by Stewart McPherson, a British geographer and natural history writer, inspired by a meeting over 10 years ago with Fred Burton, a conservationist on the Cayman Islands who instigated a project to save the blue iguana species.
“He refused to let it fall off the cliff of extinction and single-handedly saved this amazing animal,” said McPherson. “It proves that … it’s within our power to save many of these incredible species.”
“I’ve always loved Charles Darwin and his work, and obviously Darwin changed the world with his mind … The main message of Darwin200 is that it’s not too late.
It’s still within our power to change the world of tomorrow for the better,” added McPherson.
The ship carries a specialized team of eight, including an ornithologist, science educator, marine biologist and a journalist, and a further seven crew members including sailors.
Joining the crew while they are at each port are groups of “Darwin Leaders,” chosen for their passion for nature conservation and efforts to protect the planet. A total of 200 will take part in a week-long conservation leadership training program at different legs of the voyage.
“We partner them with an amazing local conservation project in which they learn a great deal to take back to their home countries and use for the future,” said McPherson.
Joseph Roy, a Darwin Leader from India, traveled to Brazil to join the ship for a week while it was docked at Rio de Janeiro, in November. Having grown up around wildlife in the southern Indian state of Kerala, he has a long-held interest in conservation. Currently, he is studying for a Master’s in Ecology at the University of Glasgow and The Scottish Centre for Ecology.
“The wild calms me in a way that keeps me positive about the world, so I always try to observe nature as much as I can,” he said. “I feel like science is the one solution which can solve any problem on the planet.”
Roy’s conservation project focused on the reintroduction of howler monkeys in the Tijuca Forest, in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro. Ultimately, he aims to apply the insights and research from the project to his own work on reintroducing the lion-tailed macaque species in India. According to Roy, only 3,000 individuals are left in the wild.
“I’m generally curious about everything … [so] I try to speak with everyone about what they’re doing,” said Roy. “From how they bred [the howler monkeys] to how they monitor their health … I try to collect as much knowledge [as I can to take back home].”
For Dr. Sarah Darwin, a researcher at Berlin Natural History Museum, great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, and key supporter of Darwin200, the project provides hope of a more positive future for the planet.
But the initiative aims to inspire a lot more people than just the 200 Darwin Leaders. A variety of free outreach activities, dubbed the “world’s most exciting classroom,” are being provided during the voyage for students, teachers and individuals across the world, intended to encourage curiosity and a passion for learning. This includes online interactive experiments, live lectures and interviews with conservationists and wildlife experts.
McPherson hopes these activities, along with the project itself, will empower young leaders to drive change, creating a “ripple effect” that, much like Darwin’s work, will be felt for decades to come.