HMS Protector, the Royal Navy's only ice patrol ship, has completed her Antarctic scientific mission for this season – safeguarding birdlife and laying the groundwork for further research.
The icebreaker accessed a previously inaccessible area so its crew could lay the groundwork for future research, protecting wildlife, safeguarding birdlife and leaving behind special markers.
Commanding Officer Captain Milly Ingham said: "I am really proud of the work that the team have done this season, whether digging Port Lockroy out of the snow, keeping us fed and supplied with stores, maintaining equipment to keep us at sea or surveying the seabed and collecting vital scientific data.
"Everyone on board has had a part to play in our work, which alongside our partner organisations, continues to advance our understanding of this unique environment and thus helps to safeguard it for future generations."
The Plymouth-based survey ship is on a five-year mission, splitting her time between the hemispheres – from boreal summers venturing into the Arctic to austral summers working in her more traditional realm of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The ship spends four to six weeks at a time – known as a work period – conducting survey work to update charts, working with British and international scientists delivering supplies, supporting research, moving people and equipment around, as well as collecting scientific data.
The final survey work by HMS Protector took place in Bigourdan Fjord, where, using the ship's survey motorboat, James Caird IV, the crew swept a safe channel through a narrow passage which allowed them to reach the previously inaccessible Pourquoi Pas Island and Blaiklock Island.
HMS Protector also visited Avian Island which is the breeding ground for seven species of birds, including Adélie penguins, Imperial shags, south polar skuas, and Wilson's storm petrels, and other wildlife like Weddell seals, elephant seals, and a Chinstrap penguin.
An eight-strong team from HMS Protector went ashore to collect up broken glass, foam and small pieces of plastic which were endangering the wildlife.
HMS Protector specialist hydrographer, Able Seaman Abi Potter, whose work has included collating positional data and surveying the seabed for depth, said: "It has been a great experience and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Antarctic."
Protector is playfully nicknamed the Royal Navy's 'Swiss army knife' due to her red and yellow colour scheme.
In December 2022, the crew of HMS Protector rescued the staff of an isolated scientific base on the island of Port Lockroy after they were buried under the snow.