HMCS Calgary helps protect the environment during visit to Diego Garcia

Members of HMCS Calgary stand together after collecting garbage from the beaches of Diego Garcia on June 20, 2021 in British Indian Ocean Territory during Operation PROJECTION.

NCSM Calgary  helps protect the environment during visit to Diego Garcia

By Capt Jeffery Klassen,
NCSM Calgary 

After five months of being in a COVID-free social bubble, the officers and crew of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary finally got a ‘real’ port visit when they visited the small British Indian Ocean Territory island of Diego Garcia, home to United States Navy Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia. It was a time to relax, interact with crewmates and others off ship, and, for a good portion of the ship’s company, an opportunity to help the British Forces and United States Navy protect the environment.

Members of HMCS Calgary partake in cleaning garbage on a stretch of Diego Garcia’s beaches.

The crew of HMCS Calgary had some visits to foreign countries throughout their deployment but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visits were mostly considered ‘technical visits’ and the ship’s company could never leave further than an isolated area on the jetty. After finishing their recent counter-terrorism drug interdiction mission, Operation ARTEMIS, the stop in Diego Garcia provided some well-deserved liberty.

Diego Garcia is an isolated atoll, rarely visited by outsiders and known for its natural beauty that includes fine white sanded beaches, sea turtles, coconut crabs, and a diverse and vibrant sea life surrounding it. However, plastic from the vast ocean ends up on its shores, builds up, and can create problems in the local sea turtle population. HMCS Calgary’s crew stepped in to help clean up.

“The plastic breaks down into microplastics in the sand where sea turtles tend to nest,” said 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 incubation temperatures can modify the sex ratios produced on these nesting beaches.”

In an activity organized by HMCS Calgary’s embarked chaplain Lieutenant (Navy) Wilson Gonese and LCdr Quay, on their second day off ship, 31 members of the ship got up at the break of dawn, drove out to the island’s ‘Oceanside R-site Beach’, and cleared washed up debris from a one-kilometre stretch. They gathered around 80 bags of trash with a total weight of 640 lbs.

“We are very grateful for the sacrifice and hard work of the 30-plus crew of HMCS Calgary that 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 great rest for the ship’s company after completing a very successful Operation ARTEMISm where the ship 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 their next major activity will be participation in Exercise TALISMAN SABRE, a major biennial international exercise off the coast of Australia.

“We are very thankful to our British and American partners for providing us 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 HMCS Calgary’s Commanding Officer, Commander Mark O’Donohue.

The United States Navy has been a great partner to HMCS Calgary throughout its Operation ARTEMIS mission, providing fuel-at-sea on several occasions, and the ship conducted maneuvering exercises with United States Ship Vella Gulf. While on Operation ARTEMIS, HMCS Calgary worked under Combined Maritime Forces which is currently under the command of Vice Admiral (VAdm) Brad Cooper, Commander of United States Fifth Fleet and United States Naval Forces Central Command.

During HMCS Calgary’s mid-deployment break, VAdm Cooper visited the ship and congratulated HMCS Calgary on their recent operational successes which also included making the largest heroin seizure and making the most successful interdictions by any single ship on a single rotation of the operation in CMF history.