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Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 07:11 GMT
Shackleton island to be preserved
Ernest Shackleton and men
Ernest Shackleton's escape is now legendary
From Christine McGourty, science correspondent, in Antarctica

A new association has been formed to help promote and protect the interests of South Georgia, the British island in the South Atlantic where the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried.

After his ship Endurance got stuck in the ice in 1915, Shackleton led his men on an epic 800 mile (1,200 kilometres) journey across stormy seas to seek help on the island.

The heroic adventure has spawned a range of best-selling books and films: Kevin Spacey has voiced an Imax documentary, currently in theatres; a major TV miniseries starring Kenneth Branagh is out in the New Year.

But the revival of interest in Shackleton has caused a massive influx of tourists to South Georgia, and there is concern about the impact on the environment. In the last decade, the number of cruise ships visiting South Georgia has risen from around three a year to more than 30.

Safe access

Sally Poncet has been funded by the South Georgia Government to make an environmental assessment of the island. She says vegetation is being trampled along the last part of the route taken by Shackleton, as tourists attempt to follow in his footsteps.

"There's very little visible impact from the tourists on the island, but you can see trampling of moss, vegetation and soil. On the track leading down to Stromness, you can see there's a track forming."

It was at the whaling station at Stromness where Shackleton finally found help.

The South Georgia Government recently promised support for renovations at what is known as the Stromness Villa, to allow safe access for visitors.

Positive impact

David Tatham, a former commissioner for South Georgia and the acting chairman of the newly formed South Georgia Association, said the South Georgia Government was aware of the problems.

Shackleton, PA
There is currently great interest in the explorer
"They're taking very good care of the place." He added: "We've been taking an interest in the Stromness Villa and we've been very chuffed that the government of South Georgia has undertaken to conserve the Villa."

But he added there was a need "to help conserve the island and ensure the impact of mass tourism was a positive one".

It costs £15 per annum to join the association or £50 for five years. Mr Tatham said anyone wishing to join could contact him on +44 (0) 1531 634085.

'Wrong side'

Kenneth Branagh will play Sir Ernest Shackleton in a forthcoming mini-series on British TV's Channel Four.

The £27m series will tell how the Endurance became frozen in the ice for 10 months; the pressure crushed and eventually sank the ship, forcing Shackleton to abandon his exploration mission and travel to get help.

He left 22 of his men on Elephant Island and took five others on a small boat, the James Caird, across some of the most dangerous waters in the world to seek assistance.

He arrived on the "wrong side" of South Georgia and had to trek across the mountains and glaciers to reach a whaling station on the other side.

Shackleton then formed a rescue party with the help of South American governments and donations from British émigrés.

He eventually succeeded in reaching those left on Elephant Island in the August of 1916, 21 months after the initial departure of the Endurance on its Antarctic mission. All his men survived.

See also:

18 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
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