South Africa

Pugh puts his body in ice to save a sea

2015-02-02 12:50
Lewis Pugh (

Cape Town - Ocean advocate and pioneering swimmer Lewis Pugh is about to embark on five record-breaking swims in the freezing Antarctic Ocean in an effort to help save the Ross Sea from irreversible damage.

The five swims will form the most challenging and dangerous swimming effort ever undertaken by man. With no insulation other than a Speedo swimming costume, Lewis will break the world record for the most southerly swim in three of his five swims. As well as the obvious dangers of subjecting his body to the stresses of sub-zero water, Lewis will be swimming in seas patrolled by killer whales and leopard seals.

Lewis, the UN Patron of the Oceans, is taking on these five swims for one reason – to gain global support for the Ross Sea to become an MPA (Marine Protected Area) that would limit human interference. The Ross Sea is one of the most pristine marine ecosystems on the planet, and home to many species found nowhere else on earth. The historical records trapped in its ice-shelf tell the story of the evolution of our planet. As a result, the area is of huge significance to marine biologists and conservation groups who are determined to protect and learn from this unique stretch of ocean.

The organisation responsible for creating MPAs in the region is the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which is currently chaired by Russia. For this reason, Lewis will be encouraging Russia to lead the world in conserving the Ross Sea.

Pugh said: "As well as being outstandingly beautiful, the Ross Sea is home to some extraordinary animals, such as the Antarctic Toothfish, whose heart beats only 10 times per minute to conserve energy, the Colossal Squid, which weighs up to 500kg, and the Emperor Penguin.”

"Over the past 30 years I’ve seen the devastating impacts of overfishing and climate change on our oceans. If we allow the Ross Sea to go the same way, its unique riches may be lost forever. My hope is that these symbolic swims will bring the beauty and wonder of Antarctica into the hearts and homes of people around the world so they will urge their governments to protect this unique ecosystem, which is truly a polar Garden of Eden.”

"The proposed Ross Sea MPA is 1.34 million km2 – bigger than the UK, Germany and France put together – and will be the biggest protected area in the world, on land or in the sea.”

"As chair of CCAMLR, Russia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lead the world in preserving this last wilderness area. The Russians have a impressive history in Antarctic exploration and scientific research, which means they are perfectly placed to shape the future of this marine ecosystem,” Lewis said.

This is not the first remarkable swim undertaken by Lewis Pugh. His previous accomplishments include the first swim across the North Pole and the highest altitude swim, across a glacial lake on Mount Everest. In so doing, Lewis has faced and overcome the pain barriers associated with cold water swimming; the water during his North Pole swim, undertaken in 2007, was minus1.7°C – the coldest seawater can get before freezing. It took four months for Lewis to regain the full feeling in his hands.

"That was after just one swim," Lewis says. "This time I will be doing five in quick succession."   

Ever since his first long distance swim from Robben Island to Cape Town aged 17, the Briton has been passionate about the ocean and uses his incredible endurance feats to raise awareness for their conservation. He is also a maritime lawyer.

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The Route

NOTE: Each swim will be 1km with water temperatures expected to be between 0°C and minus 1.7°C. Each swim is expected to take about 20 minutes to complete.

Swim 1 - Campbell Island | Friday, February 13
A long distance swim along Perseverance Harbour, a fjord in Campbell Island. The island, situated at 52º South, is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a large colony of Southern Royal Albatrosses and three penguins species – Eastern Rockhoppers, Erect-Crested and Yellow-Eyed Penguins.

Swim 2 - Cape Adare | Wednesday, February 18
The first long distance swim around Cape Adare at 71º South. If successful, this swim will break the world record for the most southerly long distance swim ever undertaken. Cape Adare is the site of the first wintering by explorers on the Antarctic Continent. It's also home to the largest colony of Adélie penguins in the world. More than 250,000 pairs breed there.

Swim 3 - Cape Evans | Sunday, February 22
Cape Evans is situated at 77.6º South and is where Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the British explorer, built a hut before racing the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen to the South Pole in 1911. Tragically, Scott died on the journey back with 4 colleagues. Lewis will have the privilege of preparing to swim around Cape Evans, in this historic building, which is still much the same as it was left over 100 years ago.

Swim 4 - Bay of Whales | Saturday, February 28
This is the most southern swim possible (there is no open sea further south in the world) at the Bay of Whales at 78.5º South. This bay was named by explorer Sir Ernst Shackleton due to the large number of killer whales seen in the area.

Swim 5 - Peter I Island | Saturday, March 7
Lewis' final swim will be at Peter I Island, which is in the Bellingshausen Sea at 69º South. This volcanic island is surrounded by pack ice for most of the year and is home to three seal species (Crab-eater, Southern-elephant, and the formidable Leopard Seal), is a breeding ground for southern fulmars, and is visited by Adélie and Chinstrap penguins.


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