Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

Royal Navy sailors clear waste off Antarctic island

6 February 2024
Royal Navy sailors have helped preserve the natural beauty of Antarctica by removing three tonnes of waste from an island.

Ice breaker HMS Protector returned to Brabant Island – on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula – for the first time since 2017 to continue work to remove abandoned equipment from an expedition in the 1980s.

Ice had frozen some waste into position but subsequent thaw and freeze cycles meant it could now be removed seven years on.

Twenty-nine members of HMS Protector’s expedition headed ashore on the ship’s Zodiac boats, including operations officer, Lieutenant Commander Hannah Lee, who also took part in the 2017 effort.

She said: “It was rewarding for the ship’s company to be able to conduct a clean-up and preserve the natural beauty of Antarctica.

“I was part of the team that did the initial clean-up in 2016/17 and it was interesting to see how much the snow had melted and how much more equipment had been exposed. 

“Unfortunately, we were not able to get everything off the Island due to permafrost and the severity of the landscape however, we have made it as safe as possible for the wildlife living there.”

Over 15 months from January 1984, a Joint Services Expedition to Brabant Island – the second largest island of the Palmer Archipelago within the British Antarctic Territory – undertook a scientific mission.

Brabant had only been visited on six very brief occasions since its discovery in 1898 and the expedition sought to explore the island in three phases, travelling by boat, canoe and overland – each phase was landed and recovered by former ice patrol vessel HMS Endurance.

Nearly 40 years on, Protector returned for her second clean-up effort as part of the ‘One Tonne Challenge’. First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Ben Key, asked personnel to spare time to rid beaches of one tonne of rubbish as part of an environmental drive.

Protector smashed that challenge three times over in one sitting on Brabant Island – with the locals, Chinstrap penguins, watching on. 

Marine Garrett said: “It was quite shocking seeing all the mess left behind at first. But once we got together to gather up all the rubbish, we could instantly see the benefits of our work, quite a bitter-sweet feeling.”

HMS Protector is the Royal Navy’s polar research ship and is currently deployed in the Antarctic region promoting British interests and enforcing the Antarctic Treaty by working with partners including the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust and the governments of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands.

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.