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Tall ship Oosterschelde arrives in Tenerife the first port stop of the two-year global planetary conservation mission DARWIN200

On 25th August 2023 ETA 15:00 the DARWIN200 global voyage aboard historic tall ship Oosterschelde will dock in the Port of Santa Cruz in Tenerife on the first of 32 stops on a two-year 40,000 nautical mile planetary conservation voyage in Charle’s Darwin’s wake.

The route, of almost 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km) from Plymouth to Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, will have taken the crew of adventure sailors and environmental researchers 12 days to complete.

During that time, Tenerife has experienced the worst wildfire in its history. The fire, which started the same day that the tall ship sailed out of Plymouth, has ravaged about 13,400 hectares (33,000 acres) of pine forest and scrubland within the National Park surrounding the Mount Teide volcano, Spain’s highest peak, and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

In each port of the DARWIN200 global voyage, small groups of ‘Darwin Leaders’, selected from around the world for their outstanding achievements in conservation, are due to join the tall ship for a week-long immersive conservation leadership training programme. Two hundred in total will take part over the two-year expedition – hence the project name. While in port, they will set up home on board the ship and use the historic vessel as their laboratory and class room, just as Charles Darwin did.

Working alongside local conservation experts, each Darwin Leader will study a species of animal, plant or an ecosystem, assess its population status and how it has changed over the past two centuries, learn about conservation initiatives currently in place to protect it and develop their own ideas on how to better conserve the chosen species in the future. They’ll each produce a film, a photo essay and a report from their research. These will be available for the general public to see on the DARWIN200 website along with hundreds of free, online, nature and conservation-related educational resources.

The intention is that each Darwin Leader will be empowered with new ideas, skills, and experience that will have a positive impact on the work they are already doing in their home countries and inspire their future careers in conservation.

As the wildfires in Tenerife continue to be brought under control thanks to the heroic effort of hundreds of firefighters on the island, Rolf Schreuder, Science Coordinator for DARWIN200 reflects on the impact on the conservation plans for the programme. He says “We’ve adapted to the changed situation. The project in El Teide National Park is not possible and we are deeply saddened to learn that the botanical garden of El Teide National Park, which is an important conservation research site, has been destroyed by the fire. Instead we will focus attention on the Laurel Forests of Tenerife, also a unique ecosystem under pressure from human activities. Our endemic bird project takes on a new level of importance as many of the endemic species living in the pine forest have been severely hit by the fires. We’ll conduct our research in the remaining accessible forest.”

On August 27th a group of five Darwin Leaders from Greece, Switzerland, Australia, Netherlands and Germany will join the tall ship in Tenerife for the week-long immersive conservation leadership training programme.

DARWIN200 Director Stewart McPherson said “Our thoughts are with everyone that has been impacted by the wildfires in Tenerife. More so now than ever, Tenerife’s wildlife and ecosystems need to be protected. Tenerife is both a geological masterpiece and an ecological treasure. The dramatic landscapes, sculpted by millennia of volcanic activity, stand as a testament to the Earth’s ever-evolving processes. Its unique climate zones foster a rich tapestry of ecosystems, from lush forests to arid deserts, hosting an exceptional array of flora and fauna. We can’t wait to immerse our first group of Darwin Leaders in this unique place and work together with our local conservation partners towards a bright future in Tenerife where these species can thrive.”

In Tenerife on Monday 28th August, there will be an opening event in the Museum of Tenerife with speeches from the DARWIN200 team and local partners including the project’s main partner in Tenerife The Telesforo Bravo Foundation (Fundacion Telesforo Bravo)

Jaime Coello Bravo, Director of The Telesforo Bravo Foundation, which works towards protecting and preserving the natural environment of the Canary Islands is one of the most important environmental conservation voices in the Canary Islands, having worked for more than 20 years in the environmental department of the Canary Islands Government.

Director of Fundacion Telesforo Bravo, Jaime Coello Bravo says “We are looking forward to hosting such an important project that links young leaders from so many places in the world following the footprints of Charles Darwin. This is a very important and very difficult moment for the wildlife of Tenerife but I think it is very important that we get international attention, in our efforts to protect it but also on the problems created in the Canary Islands, by mass tourism. We are very grateful to the organisers of DARWIN200 and for their constant help and effort”.

The DARWIN200 mission is a contributor to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

Meet the Darwin Leaders and their Conservation Projects: Tenerife

Lotta Baten, 21, from The Netherlands will be working with local environmental experts in the thermophile (heat-loving) forests that lie between the lower xerophylic zone and the mountain zone, to study Tenerife’s rare and famous ancient dragon tree and other species that thrive in this unique ecosystem. She will also be looking at various vegetation and animals that inhabit Tenerife’s volcanic woodlands and coastal salt marshes and the main threats that urban development, construction, tourism and the spread of invasive plant species pose.

Learn more about Lotta:






Elliot Connor, 20, from Australia will be working with experts in geology and the coastal ecosystem to study the geological heritage of Tenerife with a focus on the protected nature reserve Montaña Roja which is home to many types of endemic plants and a large number of bird species all in need of safeguarding from the impacts of tourism, adventure sports seekers and urbanisation.


Learn more about Elliot:







Tessina Strelow, 27, from Germany will be working with bird specialists to study endangered endemic birds in Tenerife, specifically the Blue Chaffinch, the Chaffinch and the Great Spotted Woodpecker. These birds are usually found in the high-altitude pine forests of Tenerife which have been badly affected by the wildfires. These birds are facing significant threats to their survival, not just from fire, but also extended periods of drought and the diversion of water resources for human use.


Learn more about Tessina:






Iro Tsarmpopoulou-Fokianou, 23, from Greece is a social anthropologist interested in the behaviour of whales. Iro will be working with marine biologists to study short finned pilot whales in the Teno Rasca marine protected area of Tenerife, designated as a World Heritage Site for whales where irresponsible human activity on the water is known to disrupt the natural behaviour and routines of whales.


Learn more about Iro:






Mirjam Schibler, 26, from Switzerland was planning to work with experts to study plant life in the mountainous Teide National Park, sadly, a large portion of this area and the botanical garden has been destroyed by recent wildfires. 

Mirjam will be studying the Laurel Forest in the north of the island which is also a national park and also under threat of habitat fragmentation and urban development.

Learn more about Mirjam:






Tall Ship Oosterschelde

Oosterschelde is a three mast tall ship, and one of the world’s finest, fully restored historic tall ships and the largest sailing vessel ever to be restored in the Netherlands. She is a bastion of Dutch ship building and is described by the ship’s Director and Captain Gerben Nab as having had at least five lives, starting in 1917 as a cargo vessel. Oosterschelde was the first Dutch commercial tall ship to sail to both the north and south poles and successfully tackle the infamous Cape Horn, a rocky headland on Hornos Island, in southern Chile known for its hazardous waters and considered the Mount Everest of sailing.


Up to 24 members of the public can sign up to take part on board Oosterschelde as ‘voyage crew’ during DARWIN200 on each of the 32 sailing legs alongside professional sailors and environmental researchers. The legs range in duration, from a week to an epic 48 days. Previous sailing experience is not a requirement but a passion for adventure is a must. 


What’s Next

During the global voyage aboard tall ship Oosterschelde the ship will become the ‘World’s Most Exciting Classroom’ beaming out research findings to the world throughout the entire two year voyage via social media, one hundred weekly online ‘Nature Hour’ events and a digital platform of hundreds of free, online, nature and conservation-related educational resources.

On September 4th at 09:00 tall ship Oosterschelde will set sail for Leg 2 of the global voyage, to Cape Verde. 


For more information, to apply to be a Darwin Leader, join the ship for a sailing leg, or to get involved visit: 

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