8 June is World Oceans Day, a global celebration of what is being done to protect and preserve our oceans and seas. When speaking of global ocean conservation the mind is usually drawn to a stimulating Sir David Attenborough voice-over and impressive shots of mysterious underwater creatures, less-so our armed forces.  However, the UK’s Royal Navy (RN) also contributes to global conservation throughout the vast majority of the year.

The RN hosts a variety of different surface and sub-surface vessels, including a number of Ice Patrol and Survey ships. Vessels such as HMS Protector provide a platform from which important hydrographic and scientific work can be done by UK and international allied bodies. Currently deployed to the Antarctic HMS Protector has been surveying large areas of the sea-bed under the request of the UK Hydrographic Office. The ship’s company also went ashore to monitor glacial erosion in the region and to map the coastline in areas where land has been exposed by recent glacial retreat.

Aside from providing a sovereign UK presence in the southern hemisphere in recent years HMS Protector has been deployed for fisheries patrol, hydrographic survey operations, humanitarian assistance, and training purposes. During this work the UK has cooperated with specialists from Australia and New Zealand in the process. In the past year HMS Protector was also tasked with the duty of assisting the international effort to search for the ill-fated missing Argentinian submarine ARA San Juan.

These operations bring together world-leading research scientists with our armed forces personnel. Theoretical science is tested in some of the most extreme environments and enabled by the equipment, expertise, and experience of RN personnel who spend much of the year at sea. These people are also supported by industrial partners, providing maintenance and service to the highly specialised and accurate equipment fitted to the ships.

Activities such as these provide important diplomatic and non-militarily operational connections with other nations. Contributing to global issues such as climate change shows the UK’s willingness to deploy valuable assets for the common good, with the outputs and benefits often going unnoticed by the public at large.

The example of HMS Protector serves to show the variety of role and capability of the UK’s fleet, as well as the range of cooperation that the RN has with national and international organisations. The RN is a highly capable global force that can range in duties from hydrography and meteorology to anti-piracy and smuggling operations, to naval warfare. More than any other military service the RN has the year-round exposure to other nations. From visiting ports, operating on anti-piracy missions, ice-patrols, or engaging in training exercises the UK’s RN is globally active. World Oceans Day may not be focussing on the military contribution to conservation and understanding climate change, however it is good to know that the Royal Navy is doing its bit. Sir David Attenborough would be proud, he should be – the next ship is being named after him.