HMCS Calgary crew helps protect the environment during visit to isolated island

Navy News / July 20, 2021

By Captain Jeff Klassen

After five months of being in a Covid-free social bubble, the crew of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary finally got a real port visit in late June when they visited the small British Indian Ocean Territory island of Diego Garcia, home to United States Navy Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia.

The visit also provided an opportunity to help protect the island’s diverse environment.

The crew had visited a few foreign countries throughout its Operation Artemis deployment, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, port visits were considered technical visits and the ship’s company could not leave an isolated area on the jetty.

In Diego Garcia it was a time to relax, and for some of the ship’s company it was an opportunity to help the British Forces and United States Navy clean up some trash.

Diego Garcia is an isolated atoll rarely visited by outsiders. It is known for its natural beauty, including fine white-sanded beaches, sea turtles, coconut crabs and other diverse and vibrant sea life.

However, plastic from the ocean ends up on its shores and can create problems for the local sea turtle population. Calgary’s crew stepped in to help clean up.

“The plastic breaks down into microplastics in the sand where sea turtles tend to nest,” explained Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) John Quay, Command Chaplain for Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia. “For marine turtle eggs, incubation temperature is destiny. Sea turtles have temperature-dependent sex determination, which means their sex is determined by the sand temperature. Changes in these temperatures can modify the sex ratios produced on these nesting beaches.”

In an activity organized by Calgary’s embarked chaplain Lieutenant (Navy) Wilson Gonese and LCdr Quay, 31 members of the ship’s company got up at the break of dawn, drove out to one of the island’s beaches and cleared up debris from a one-kilometre stretch. They gathered about 80 bags of trash weighing nearly 300 kg.

“We are very grateful for the hard work of the crew of HMCS Calgary who gave up several hours of a very short liberty call on a tropical island to help beautify our beaches, and more importantly, to significantly help our sea turtle population,” said LCdr Quay.

The island of Diego Garcia provided a welcome rest for the ship’s company after successfully completing Operation Artemis, where the crew set the record for the most successful interdictions by any ship on a single rotation in the history of the operation.

The ship is now on Operation Projection and its next major activity will be participation in Exercise Talisman Sabre, a major biennial international exercise off the coast of Australia.

“We are thankful to our British and American partners for providing us with the opportunity to take a much-needed rest in Diego Garcia. The fact that we were also able to contribute to maintaining the island’s natural beauty is just an amazing bonus for us,” said Commander Mark O’Donohue, Calgary’s Commanding Officer.