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7 Swims in the 7 Seas for 1 Reason

7 Swims in the 7 Seas for 1 Reason

Jan 2015

Overfishing, oil and plastic pollution, rising water temperatures due to climate change, extinction: the world’s oceans are under siege. South African endurance swimmer and the United Nations Environment Programme’s Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh, is determined to help ward off an irreversible crisis – not for our children, but for the current generation. 

“I spent the better part of the past four weeks with my head in the sea … and I am able to say that our oceans and coastlines are on the line. The biggest fish I came across during my swims was 30 centimetres long. I didn’t see any sharks, nor dolphins or whales,” says Pugh, barely a week after returning from his latest expedition. The campaign, during which he swam the seven seas of the ancient world, took place between 7 and 29 August 2014 and stretched some 200 kilometres. 

“I knew these seas had been overfished, but never did I anticipate them to be this empty. I never, ever thought it was this bad,” he says. 

What the swimmer did see was an insurmountable pollution crisis that exceeded his imagination. “Especially in the Aegean and Red Seas we saw huge amounts of pollution in the form of litter on the seabed,” Pugh recalls. “We saw heaps of stuff you wouldn’t expect on the ocean floor: tyres, shopping trolleys, bottles, cans and loads of plastic – from chips packets to carrier bags.” 

He adds that his Seven Swims in the Seven Seas campaign strengthened his worries with regard to the health of the world’s maritime resources, with oceans in particular. “The destruction has happened in my lifetime. I am 44 years old, and I am halfway through the average lifespan of a male of my socio-economic status,” Pugh says. “If we carry on doing what we are doing to the oceans in the second half of my lifetime, then we will have an irreversible crisis on our hands.  We are using oceans as our dumping ground, and we do so at our own peril.

“My message to world leaders and policy makers is therefore that our oceans should be protected – not for our children and their children, but for us. Protecting the oceans is not about them. It should be about our generation,” he says. “We need to protect the oceans for us because this crisis is unfolding now, in our lifetime.”

The expedition wasn’t all doom and gloom, Pugh says. The Red Sea leg stands out on that regard. “The swim started in Aqaba, Jordan and took me along the coast and into the Aqaba Marine Reserve. Once we entered this reserve, things changed below me. There were all sorts of corals – red, orange, yellow and even some beautiful dark blue varieties,” Pugh recalls. “Multicoloured fish darted in and out of the coral as we came past. It was truly magnificent.

“It was great to see what a marine protected area can look like,” he says. “However, just two kilometres away, outside the marine protected area, the tyres, bottles, cans and plastic returned. It was startling to see the contrast.”

In a way, this contrast was a highlight, says Pugh: “It was proof that marine protected areas do work and that we need more of them.”

Another memorable aspect of his Seven Seas campaign was the support he received from people from all walks of life. “Farmers, fishermen, shipowners, housewives and school children came out to support us, as well as royalty,” he says. “For our Red Sea swim, the King of Jordan decided to lend us his boat and a naval escort. During this swim, people from local villages – school kids included – came down to swim with me. The fact that so many different people supported what we did, from kings to ordinary folk, was wonderful.”

The toughest stretch was by far the North Sea swim, which measured 100km and guided Pugh via the River Thames from South End to Parliament in London. “There was a very strong tide moving into one direction, with winds blowing the other way,” he says. “The water was very choppy and I was swimming at night. The water temperature was 14 degrees Celsius. It was very tough physically.” 

The North Sea swim was completely different from his Red Sea leg the week before, Pugh says: “In the Red Sea, the air temperature was 44 degrees while seawater temperatures hovered around 30 degrees.

“The thing is that you can’t really prepare your body for such extremes,” he continues, adding that every swim was different. “There was no time to prepare for things like that. We would arrive in a country, travel to harbour, find somebody who was willing and able to escort us, and then do the swim. We would also do photo shoots, interviews with the media, and one or two speeches. Finally, we would get on a bus back to the airport, en route to our next destination.”

Pugh says that his latest expedition has been different from previous campaigns and, in a way, more exhausting: “The world of campaigning has changed over the past years when I started what I do now. The overall package of 21st century campaigning is tough. Today, apart from the above activities, everyone expects you to be on Twitter and Facebook, and to communicate every few hours about what is going on. Media were phoning me all the time. Between 7 and 29 August, our team got an average four hours of sleep per night. The only way you can pull through is when you have a deep sense of purpose.”

While he was still recovering from his Seven Seas expedition at the time of this interview, Pugh was already thinking about his next trip. On the agenda: the pristine and remote Ross Sea, situated on the New Zealand side of Antarctica. 

“This is an extraordinary region, with whales, seals, orcas and other species,” Pugh says, adding that he wants to swim there to raise awareness around the necessity of preserving the Ross Sea as a marine protected reserve. “This region is truly the Garden of Eden. We need to protect it at all cost.” 

Seven Seas of the Ancient World

The term ‘Seven Seas’ has been making the rounds in various cultures for millennia, and therefore its definition varies from region to region. In Greek literature, the Seven Seas comprise:
* The Mediterranean Sea (stretching from the Atlantic Ocean, separating Europe from Africa)
* The Aegean Sea (an arm of the Mediterranean Sea, located between the Greek Peninsula and Turkey)
* The Adriatic Sea (part of the Mediterranean Sea, situated between Italy’s eastern coastline and the shoreline of the Balkan Peninsula, which comprises Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania)
* The Black Sea (situated in eastern Europe, surrounded by Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Turkey)
* The Red Sea (an extension of the Indian Ocean, located between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, with the entrance being the Gulf of Aden)
* The Caspian Sea (landlocked between Asia and European Russia – this sea is the world’s largest inland body of water, with a surface area of 371 000 km²)
* The Persian Gulf (situated between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula)

Past expeditions

Lewis Pugh has undertaken over a dozen swimming expeditions, of which quite a few served as tools to raise environmental awareness: 
* 2007 – Pugh was the first person to swim along the Maldives (140km in 10 days) to draw attention to the impact of rising water levels on low-lying islands. The Maldives archipelago is so low that it is directly threatened if seawater levels start to rise. 
* 2007 – He swam 1km across an open patch of sea at the North Pole to draw attention to the melting of the Arctic sea ice. 
* 2008 – Pugh paddled 140km in a surf ski from the island of Spitsbergen in Norway into the Arctic ice packs. The objective was to show the world that this trip was only possible as a result of melting Arctic sea ice, which is a direct consequence of climate change.
* 2010 – Dressed in a Speedo costume and a swimming cap, he embarked on a one-kilometre swim across Lake Pumori, situated at 5 300m on Mount Everest. He wanted to draw attention to the fact that glaciers are a water lifeline for more than 2 billion people living in the Himalaya region. If the Himalayas continue to melt away, Pugh said, they are to become the Earth’s next big battleground.

Source: The Intrepid Explorer

The Intrepid explorer