US Navy docks at Roche Caiman

Countless bags and countless trips to move the red soil

Nature Seychelles was earlier this week graced by twenty helping hands from the US Navy whose ship had just ported into the country. The group from the USS James E Williams DEG95 ship normal operations include keeping the waters of the Indian Ocean safe, more so from piracy. After being out to sea for several months, they volunteered at The Sanctuary in Roche Caiman as part of their community relations program, carrying out various gruelling maintenance tasks at the site.

“Pulling into Seychelles and Mauritius has always been favourable to our community relations work. So we try to do as many as we can and work our schedule around it,” says Chaplain Ray Adkins who has worked with the navy for six years in a three pronged capacity. Apart from the religious/spiritual vocation that his role entails, Adkins also provides counselling and organises community relations work in the countries where the ship ports. 

 Clearing the channel to the sea is a great wildlife boost for The Sanctuary

Through the American Embassy in Seychelles, Adkins organised for a whole day of channel digging, clearing of invasive species and moving red soil at The Sanctuary. “It is important for the group to do community relations work because it allows them to get outside the ship and do something different. It also allows them to give back to the community,” Adkins explained. 

The work carried out by the Navy at The Sanctuary not only saved the organisation countless hours of manual labour, but also helped in improving the site as a wildlife habitat. By deepening the channel that connects the wetland to the sea, this will help in increasing the frequency the site is connected to the sea - at high as well as low tide. This in turn translates to an increase in the marine wildlife traffic thus speeding up the colonisation of the site.

 Felling trees by hand and machete

In so far as vegetation is concerned, several Casuarina (Australian pine) and Tabebuia pallida (roble/ trumpet) trees were cleared as they are an invasive species that degrade rather than improve the wetland habitat. Several mangrove seeds were also planted by a few members of the group. Additionally, by loosening and moving a mound of red soil that was beside the office to the Heritage (organic) Garden, the red soil is now closer to where it is needed.

“That was probably one of the most physical labours that we’ve done but it’s not by far the only,” Adkins said later in the afternoon. “We can be painting in schools, redecorating rooms, putting in door knobs, busting walls and refurbishing, painting, clean up, landscaping work, you name it” he said in giving examples of indoor as well as outdoor volunteer work that the Navy does in many countries.

 Separating the rocks from the sand

“Rather than just make it a port visit, we like to build relationships with the people in the country,” Michael Scarborough, the Public Affairs Officer explained. “It is great to be able to learn from each other and have a better understanding of different people and therefore strengthen the relationship between the US Navy and the countries we visit.”

Even back at home, it seems that the modus operandi for these sailors is to be involved in some kind of community work. “I like giving back. I do a lot of community work at home as well,” Rashida Robe a second class petty officer in the US Navy said cheerfully, seemingly un-phased by the hours of manual labour that they had just carried out. “It’s nothing like we did today. We do family days with food banks where we collect food around holiday times and give to the needy,” she explained.

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