Alex Hartley searched for and discovered a previously uncharted island in September 2004 whilst on a Cape Farewell expedition to Svalbard. The island had been revealed by the melting ice of the retreating Negribreen retreating glacier. Alex was the first person to set foot on the island. You can read Alex's blog post about the discovery of the island here and watch an extract from David Hinton's film of the Cape Farewell expedition.
On his return to the UK, Alex attempted to claim sovereignty over the Arctic island and his correspondence with the Norwegian government formed the artwork Nymark - Undiscovered Island which was has been exhibited in the Art and Climate Change exhibition.
Duncan Campbell, 'Artist claims sovereignty over new Arctic island', The Guardian, 2004
In 2006 the Norwegian Polar Institute agreed to recognise the island and with Alex they agreed to name it - Nyskjaeret - and to include it on all subsequent maps and charts.
Nyskjaeret in Svalbard, 2004 Photo: Alex Hartley
Nyskjaeret in Svalbard, 2011 Photo: Max McClure
Nyskjaeret is about the size of a football pitch and consists of moraine and loose rocks on some bedrock. On the return expedition in September 2011 to collect the island territory before it was sailed into international waters, a hand-drawn map was made by two expedition members, geographer Tim Cresswell and twelve-year-old Frank Hartley.
Tim Cresswell and Frank Hartley's map of Nyskjaeret, 2011
Like all coastal landscapes, the island is subject to the elements and, having lost the protection of the glacier, the island is now slowly eroding. Alex estimated that at least a third of the island had disappeared back into the sea between 2004 and 2011 and it is predicted that the island has just 10-15 years left. More about the 2011 expedition can be found here.
As well as mapping the territory and removing a portion of the island, Alex and the 2011 expedition team found the cairn and message he had left on the island in 2004. Alex replaced the disintegrating tin-can that held the 2004 claim, and a new message was signed by the expedition team before the cairn was rebuilt and both messages were buried under the stones.
Alex Hartley rebuilding cairn in 2011 Photo: Max McClure
This was Tania Kovats' logbook entry for that day:
'Today I planted an acorn. It went into the tin can at the heart of the cairn on Nskjaeret, the island that has been revealed from the retreating glacier from which Nowhereisland will be formed.
'Alex first visited this place seven years ago to the day. He undid the rocks that surrounded the tin can containing the claim note he left in 2004. The can was intact, a few streaks of rust running down the rock directly below it. You could see his heart open at this moment. The can disintegrated at his touch, bits of rusted metal flaking like the frost-shattered stones all around it.
Contents of the can, 2011 Photo: Max McClure
'We built up the cairn again, our way marker in the manner of all marked places. We left a new tin, all our names inside, a letter from Ruby, a stone from the South, and an acorn.'