Man faces ‘most dangerous swims’

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Published: Tuesday 3rd February 2015 by The News Editor

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British endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh is embarking on the “most dangerous swims ever undertaken in the world” to call for a vast protected area in Antarctic waters.

The swimmer is taking to the waters of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, braving freezing temperatures, leopard seals and killer whales in nothing more than his Speedo swimwear to raise awareness of the need to protect the region’s pristine Ross Sea.

Over the next five weeks he will undertake five swims, four of which will be further south than the current world record – held by Mr Pugh – for the most southerly swim, in waters expected to be as cold as around minus 1.7C (29F).

The swims include a long distance swim around Cape Adare, home to the largest colony of Adele penguins in the world and patrolled by the penguins’ predators, leopard seals.

He will also be swimming at Cape Evans, where British explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott built a hut before his journey to the South Pole, and will be preparing for his swim in the hut which has been left virtually untouched for over a hundred years.

Another swim will take place in the Bay of Whales, so-named by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton due to the large number of killer whales seen in the area.

Mr Pugh said he was worried about the leopard seals, which could try to grab him in their powerful jaws and drag him under, the killer whales and the bitterly cold water, which he has already experienced swimming in the Arctic.

“When you have been there before and felt that pain, it’s all the more daunting to go back there,” he said.

“Your purpose has got to be so strong when everything is saying to you, ‘get out of the water’, so there’s something saying, ‘no, this is what I was meant to do’.”

He said the issue of protecting the seas was “extremely important” to him, pushing him to undertake the risky swims.

” These will collectively be the most dangerous swims ever undertaken in the world,” he said, but added that sport had a way of breaking down barriers and drawing attention to places such as the Ross Sea.

Pugh hopes his swims will encourage the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), 24 countries and the EU responsible for creating marine protected areas in the region, to designate the sea as a protected area.

The swimmer, who has also swum in a lake on Everest and in the Seven Seas of Europe and the Middle East, wants to see a vast no-take zone established, which would be the biggest protected area on Earth and larger than the UK, Germany and France put together.

He said the Southern Ocean was like a “garden of Eden”.

“It’s just astounding to see the wildlife, it reminds you what the world must have looked like before man touched it, the noise of birds, whales surging out of the water and the joy of these immense penguin colonies, it’s very beautiful.”

The Ross Sea was the complete opposite of the Seven Seas, where he saw no fish larger than a foot long, sharks, dolphins or whales, during his recent swims, he said.

“Scientists call it the least impacted ecosystem on this planet, the most pristine ecosystem in this planet.”

He called on the countries in CCAMLR, which is currently chaired by Russia, to save the Ross Sea in the same way they came together to protect the land area of Antarctica at the height of the Cold War.

And he said: “I hope this swim will bring the beauty, the majesty, the biodiversity of this last wilderness area into the hearts and homes of people in these nations that they will urge their policy makers and leaders to set this aside as a marine protected area.”

He added: “I see this as a human rights issue, I feel that we have to try to protect the environment for our children and grandchildren and there needs to be justice between generations.”

Mr Pugh’s five Antarctic swims are:

:: Campbell Island, between New Zealand and Antarctica, February 13, a World Heritage Site at 52 degrees south with a large colony of southern royal albatrosses and eastern rockhopper, erect-crested and yellow-eyed penguins.

:: Cape Adare, February 19, the site of the first wintering by explorers on the Antarctic continent, at 71 degrees south, which if successful will break the record for the most southerly swim in the world. The cape is home to 250,000 breeding pairs of Adele penguins.

:: Cape Evans, February 22, situated 77.6 degrees south, the site where Captain Scott built a hut before his fateful journey to the South Pole.

:: Bay of Whales, February 28, the most southerly swim possible in the world at 78.5 degrees south, named by Sir Ernest Shackleton due to the large number of killer whales.

:: Peter I Island, March 7, in the Bellingshausen Sea at 69 degrees south, an island surrounded by pack ice for much of the year and home to three seal species, including leopard seals.

Published: Tuesday 3rd February 2015 by The News Editor

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