190 years after Darwin, 2-year expedition launches to retrace his voyage around the world

The Darwin200 expedition are sailing around the world on the Dutch tall ship Oosterschelde. (Image credit: Wikimedia/VollwertBIT)

Researchers and conservationists have set off on a two-year voyage to retrace Charles Darwin's famous journey across the globe. The expedition comes more than 190 years after the naturalist sailed the world collecting specimens and shaping ideas that would help him formulate his theory of evolution. 

The expedition, named Darwin200, began on Aug. 15 when an international team set off from Plymouth, England, on board the Dutch tall ship Oosterschelde. The team will sail more than 46,000 miles (74,000 kilometers) and drop anchor in 32 different ports across four continents, before ending their journey in Falmouth, U.K. Along the way, they will collect scientific data, train future environmentalists and promote conservation.

The expedition's route will closely follow Darwin's original voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, which set off from Plymouth on Dec. 27, 1831 and returned to Falmouth on Oct. 2, 1836. Darwin was 22 years old when he joined the expedition with the intention of seeing the world before joining the church. But during the trip, Darwin became fascinated by the wide range of different species he encountered, which eventually led to him formulating his theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin's account of the journey, which was published after his return, also helped him establish his reputation as one of Victorian Britain's academic elite. 

Related: Charles Darwin's stolen 'tree of life' notebooks returned after 20 years 

A statue of Charles Darwin at the National History Museum in London. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The main aim of the new expedition is to train and inspire 200 young environmentalists, between 18 and 25 years old, who will each spend a week on board the Oosterschelde studying threatened species that Darwin encountered on his voyage. 

"We wanted to create a similarly transformative experience [for the young naturalists]," Stewart McPherson, mission director of Darwin200, said in a statement. They have "the potential to be the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] and conservation leaders of tomorrow," he added.

Every week, the team will broadcast interactive "nature hour" sessions live from the ship for people across the world.

The HMS Beagle drawn in 1890 while on an expedition in Chile. (Image credit: Wikimedia)

The team will also collect important data on ocean plastics and coral reef health, as well as survey seabirds, whales and dolphins.

The Oosterschelde will make its next stop in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, before heading to Brazil. From there it will cruise around South America before sailing to Australia, New Zealand, Pacific island nations and South Africa, and then finally returning home. 

Harry Baker
Senior Staff Writer

Harry is a U.K.-based senior staff writer at Live Science. He studied marine biology at the University of Exeter before training to become a journalist. He covers a wide range of topics including space exploration, planetary science, space weather, climate change, animal behavior, evolution and paleontology. His feature on the upcoming solar maximum was shortlisted in the "top scoop" category at the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Awards for Excellence in 2023.