Hero Elwyn boat shore south havera

Bottle Dropped Near the Coast of Greenland Found Four Years Later in Shetland

A message in a bottle tossed in the sea connects two people oceans apart as we celebrate World Oceans Day.

by Bill Swan

A message in a bottle conjures enduring images for the romantic in each of us. Tiny time capsules corked and bobbing in a giant ocean of mystery, danger and discovery. Love, loneliness, humour, science, the need for connection: the motivation and practice of putting messages in bottles has for centuries tantalized our imaginations.

As a geologist and lecturer aboard Adventure Canada’s Arctic Explorer Expedition, Peter Croal dropped his stainless steel bottle from the deck of the Ocean Endeavour into the frigid waters off Greenland’s northwest coast in the late summer of 2016.

Peter was adding to a scientific legacy that picked up momentum in the 18th and 19th centuries as scientists sought to learn more about ocean currents. Some of the bottles dropped in those times are still being found today.

Peter Croal

© Victoria Polsoni

Peter Croal providing geological interpretation to passengers in Tasiusaq, Greenland on Out of the Northwest Passage 2019.

"The Drift Bottle Project has been ongoing for a number of years as a low-tech, citizen science effort to measure ocean currents to see how they are being affected by climate change and as a way of tracking waste movement” says Croal. "Up until climate change, currents have had a predictable pattern and velocity, and it’s starting to change now. The bottle drop is a way of tracing a path as part of a global study."

Almost four years later, that path connected Peter’s bottle to the hands of Elwyn Fullerton on a tiny beach on the small uninhabited island of South Havera in the Shetland Islands, Scotland. The Drift Bottle Project website states that only approximately 1 in 25 bottles are ever found.

Elwyn Fullerton Bottle

Elwyn Fullerton poses with the bottle he found on the beach in South Havera.

Elwyn, 38, has lived in the Shetlands all his life and travels by small boat with his family to South Havera and nearby Little Havera every spring for three weeks during lambing season. They stay in a small house with no running water or electricity.

Elwyn cliff south havera

© Elwyn Fullerton

Elwyn sitting at the top of the cliff overlooking the uninhabited hamlet.

Sitting Near Fire South Havera

© Elwyn Fullerton

Elwyn and his family keeping warm near a fire in their small house on the island of South Havera.

"There are four families that share ownership of South and Little Havera and all are descendants of the people of Havera," Elwyn shares. My grandfather came from South Havera and was born there. He left Havera to live in Burra Isle when he was 8 years old with his family in 1923 and they were one of the last two families to leave the island.”

South havera sheep

© Elwyn Fullerton

Elwyn shares that when he visited in the spring this year, the weather was cold with light snow—which is colder than usual, and not very good for newborn lambs.

Elwyn found the bottle in the “hame ham” which is the shore below the house on May 8, 2020—exactly one month before World Oceans Day. He notified Adventure Canada’s office that the bottle had been found, beached at coordinates N 60.0255, W1.3547.

This data will be sent to The Drift Bottle Project by the Institute of Ocean Sciences based out of Sydney, British Columbia. Every bottle report returned to the project organizers provides important information that is added to their database for analysis which strengthens their understanding of the oceans and assists in monitoring them for changes.

The stunningly beautiful and rugged Shetlands are made up of almost 100 small islands, of which approximately 20 are inhabited today. Ocean currents have also brought Scottish and Norse cultures to the naming of Shetland (known as Sealtainn in Scottish Gaelic and Hjaltland in Old Norse) over centuries, and Adventure Canada plies the routes and history of these cultures in their Scotland, North Atlantic and Greenland expeditions.

Mousa Scotland Hike

© Dennis Minty

A passenger enjoying a view of the rugged coastlines in Mousa Nature Reserve, an important reserve for breeding wildlife.

About the author:

As a co-founder of Adventure Canada, Bill Swan remains awed and deeply appreciative of the amazing next generation of his family that makes the company what it is today. This admiration includes the extended ‘family’ of passionate, intelligent and inspiring people who work and travel with Adventure Canada. Forging new partnerships, developing and launching the Taste of Place food program and Adventure Canada’s regenerative tourism plan are his current assignments.

Bill loves connections and networks – in nature, culture, people. Travel deepens his appreciation of these intricate weavings revealing opportunities for a positive and resilient future.

Bill Swan Taste of Place

© Victoria Polsoni

Taste of Place founder Bill Swan with Ambassador Lori McCarthy sourcing hand line cod in the community of St Carol's, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fun facts! Around the time Peter dropped that bottle in the sea, several notable events with connections to science, exploration, innovation, climate and great story tellers also occurred:

  • NASA’s Juno spacecraft began orbiting Jupiter. The craft would later send some of the first close-up images of the planet back to Earth.
  • The US and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, ratified the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen died at the age of 82.
  • The first solar-powered plane, the Solar Impulse 2, completed its trip around the world.
  • American astronaut John Glenn, the first U.S. citizen to orbit Earth, died at the age of 95.