Argus volunteers help endangered sea turtles

Crew from RFA Argus have been on a mission to help save the lives of endangered sea turtles during a maintenance stop in the Caribbean.

Argus is in the region to support British Overseas Territories during hurricane season, but crew from the ship have used a brief pause in Curaçao to clear waste plastics strewn across the turtles' beach habitats. 

The Dutch island is well known for its population of sea turtles, but an increasing amount of plastics washing up on beaches is risking their survival. 

The turtles are known to get trapped in the waste and it makes their nesting sites uninhabitable.

The volunteers from Argus headed for San Pedro on the island’s northern shore – an area particularly badly hit with plastic – to clean the beach as part of help for the Curaçao Turtle Sanctuary.

“I was shocked to see all the plastic that had washed up,” Lieutenant Annie Sykes Royal Navy, from 845 Naval Air Squadron, said.

“We were all tired at the end of the clean but it was rewarding too. It was good to assist with conservation of the local environment and it made me think about the plastic I use – even the straw in my next drink. 

“We did what we could, but I will remember the sad state of that beach forever.”

In the hot sun the team conducted a beach clean, aiming to remove as much waste as possible, especially any large nets or items that can trap turtles. 
At the same time, the Argus team were shown how to identify and sort any plastic waste that can be recycled. 

Andy Moorehouse, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cadet, said: “It was hard work at the beach, there was so much plastic but I was glad to get stuck in. It was really interesting to hear how much of the plastic can be sorted and re-used.”

Following the beach clean the group of volunteers helped the Turtle Sanctuary fill up containers of fresh sea water. 

This was ferried to a local vet’s where several injured or vulnerable turtles are being nursed back to health for release back into the wild. 

Air Engineering Technician Danielle Peakman said: “After all the hard work in the morning it was great to then see the turtles. I was so excited.”

Cadet Moorehouse added: “I am so pleased to have had a chance to get off ship to do something different that really feels like we are helping. 

“To see the turtles was an added bonus but I am glad I could represent the RFA with the other military teams we have on ship.”

The Turtle Sanctuary is partnered with a local organisation called Green Phenix, which looks to deal with the plastic problem through education and reducing use. They also sort and recycle collected plastic for use in 3D printing machines. 

They offer opportunities for the local community to use large scale 3D printing machines to create new products completely free of charge.

It is has helped local businesses and entrepreneurs while having the benefit of creating a need to collect and sort waste plastics. 

Most recently Green Phenix were able to produce PPE and COVID facemasks for the island and the wider region.

Follow up work has been taking place with Green Phenix and the Crisis Response Troop of 24 Commando Royal Engineers on Argus.

They helped the project move to a new space that required work to turn it into an education centre, a plastic sorting facility and somewhere to house 3D printing machines.  

The work took place alongside regular local volunteers, and though Curaçao has been declared COVID free after a very small number of cases were resolved, care was still taken to adhere to social distancing measures in this joint work.  

After the stop in Curaçao, RFA Argus headed back to sea and to continue work with the Royal Navy task group in the region, which is centred around the support ship and HMS Medway. 

The task group is in the Caribbean during hurricane season, but also to contribute to maritime security and counter illicit trafficking operations.

We did what we could, but I will remember the sad state of that beach forever.

Lieutenant Annie Sykes