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Navy’s global clean-up removes 2½ tonnes of trash from oceans and waterways

1 December 2023
Sailors and marines have cleaned up 20 beaches and waterways in the UK and beyond – smashing the target set them by the head of the Navy.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key asked personnel to spare time to rid beaches of one tonne of rubbish.

Twenty ships and units responded, collecting two and a half tonnes of trash – bottles, boxes, cartons, plastics, tins, wrappers and general waste – plaguing shorelines from Cardiff to Curacao, Diego Garcia to Devon.

Run from June through to the autumn, the challenge was prompted by 11-year-old Cheshire schoolboy Thomas Morgan, who wrote to Admiral Key, challenging the Royal Navy to prove its environmental credentials by collecting one tonne of litter from oceans and coastlines.

The First Sea Lord embraced the idea – supporting research into and tackling climate change is a key tenet of the Royal Navy’s environmental challenge.

Over the summer and autumn, ships, squadrons, and units were asked to tackle the blight of rubbish on the shoreline wherever they were based or on patrol.

Two seemingly-idyllic locations yielded more than a tonne of rubbish between them: 780kg in Diego Garcia, a tiny UK dependency in the British Indian Ocean Territories, while crew of destroyer HMS Dauntless collected 300kg of rubbish – thus assisting the local turtle population – in Curaçao in the Caribbean.

The Royal Navy exceeded the challenge set, and our people should be rightly proud of their achievements.

Lieutenant Imogen Napper

The clean-up wasn’t limited to the sea shore. Royal Marines Reservists from Merseyside picked up 200kg of junk from canals and towpaths in the Birmingham area; Naval Reservists from HMS Sherwood in Nottingham collected a similar amount from the banks of the Trent.

And when Reservists from HMS Eaglet in Liverpool tackled the Mersey shoreline, they were joined by young Thomas.

“Taking part showed me that the day was much more than a simple litter-picking exercise,” the schoolboy said.

“It was amazing to see a sense of community and the formation of lasting relationships around the One Tonne Challenge that I helped create.”

Lieutenant Imogen Napper, the Royal Naval Reservist and marine scientist with the University of Plymouth who oversaw the challenge, is delighted with the results.

“The success of the One Tonne Challenge is testament to the impact that can result from a good idea, supported by senior leaders and with a plan to deliver,” she said.

“The Royal Navy exceeded the challenge set, and our people should be rightly proud of their achievements.

“Connecting with people across the Navy and seeing the positive environmental results and the discussion that has formed has been really encouraging. Together, we are stepping in the right direction for environmentalism."

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