Royal Navy's greenest ship HMS Tamar protects paradise in rare visit to UK's Indian Ocean territory
Sailors from the Royal Navy's HMS Tamar protected rare turtle nesting grounds and helped with a huge illegal fishing haul during three weeks in an Indian Ocean paradise.
The crew of the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) found the shores of the British Indian Ocean Territory littered with tonnes of rubbish and fishermen flouting international law, trawling the territory’s expansive, protected waters – roughly the size of Texas – for its rich stocks of rare fish.
HMS Tamar is on a five-year mission to the Indo-Asia-Pacific to work with international allies and underscore Britain's commitment to the region, which includes clearing up rubbish and preventing illegal fishing.
The chain of nearly 60 islands, led by Diego Garcia, lies more than 1,100 miles from the southern tip of India and more than 2,000 miles from Africa's Eastern Seaboard.
Commander Teilo Elliot-Smith said: "Tamar's green credentials are particularly pertinent given that the archipelago sits within the world's largest marine protected area.
"We very much enjoyed working closely with our BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) colleagues, to understand enforcement practices which help preserve and protect this remarkable ocean ecosystem."
British sailors worked with the islands' patrol vessel Grampian Endurance to seize the haul of an illegal fishing trawler.
Illegal fishing is one of the area's biggest problems and various protected species, including mobula, sting rays, and sharks, were discovered on board when Tamar's sailors helped unload, count and weigh the huge haul of now-dead fish.
George Balcombe, Strategic Environmental Officer for the BIOT Administration, said: "Over the past two years there has been a major increase in illegal fishing.
"Researchers who have been working in the territory for years have observed a significant decline in several keystone species, notably sharks.
"The levels of fishing are unprecedented and the support of Royal Navy vessels like HMS Tamar is invaluable in combating this ecologically disastrous activity."
Equally damaging to the territory's delicate eco-balance is the waste washed ashore – plastic bottles, shipping floats, fishermen's nets, empty drink cans, glass bottles, polystyrene, flip flops – which pollutes some of the cleanest waters in the Indian Ocean and harms wildlife from birds caught in netting to harming the nesting grounds of endangered hawksbill turtles.
The rubbish collected by the sailors was subsequently separated and either sent for recycling or disposed of if it couldn't be reused.
"The beach clean was a really important job for us," said Sub Lieutenant Laurie Wellesbury, a trainee Marine Engineer Officer.
Royal Navy Reservist and marine scientist Dr Imogen Napper, who specialises in water-borne plastic pollution, said: "The beaches of Diego Garcia are globally important for turtle nesting, with endangered green turtle and critically endangered hawksbill turtle populations of the Western Indian Ocean nesting here annually."
HMS Tamar, with her sister ship HMS Spey, is considered the most eco-friendly ship in the Navy, with its diesel exhaust reducing emissions by 90%, and a ballast water management system, allowing her to patrol the world's most sensitive areas subjected to the strictest emission restrictions.