Article | Scotland

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

Worlds collided when geologist Peter Croal dropped a message in a bottle off the coast of Greenland in 2016 as part of a citizen science initiative, and it was found nearly four years later by a sheep farmer on a beach in the Shetland Islands.

Battle in the water

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 eighteenth and nineteenth 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 Adventure Canada guests 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 one in twenty-five 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 sitting at the top of the cliff overlooking the uninhabited hamlet

Sitting Near Fire South Havera

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 eight years old with his family in 1923, and they were one of the last two families to leave the island.”

South havera sheep

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 one hundred small islands, of which approximately twenty 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 the centuries, and Adventure Canada has plied these routes as well.

Mousa Scotland Hike

An Adventure Canada guest enjoying a view of the rugged coastlines in Mousa Nature Reserve, an important reserve for breeding wildlife

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 U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, ratified the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen died at the age of eighty-two.
  • 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 ninety-five.

About the Author

Bill Swan

Bill Swan

Partnerships & Sustainability

As a co-founder of Adventure Canada, Bill 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 expedition staff and the guests who travel with us on these outstanding expeditions. Forging new partnerships, developing and launching the Taste of Place food program, and Adventure Canada’s regenerative plan are his current assignments.