Nairobi, 2 September 2014 - Renowned ocean swimmer and environmental campaigner Lewis Pugh, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Patron for Oceans, has become the first person to swim the world's seven seas, drawing attention from around the globe to the importance of creating dedicated Marine Protected Areas (MPA).
Mr. Pugh, who has previously pioneered swims in the most hostile waters on earth including the Antarctic, the North Pole and the Himalayas, crossed each of the seven seas over a period of four weeks.
The seven seas are some of the most at risk waters in the world.
"The North, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas have been drastically overfished. Many coral reefs are in decline - through habitat destruction in the Red and severe bleaching in the Arabian Sea. The Black Sea is dreadfully polluted. And the rich wetlands of the Adriatic no longer provide a safe haven for thousands of migrating birds," said Mr. Pugh.
Reflecting on his expedition, Mr. Pugh said: "when you've had your head under water for four weeks, you get a good idea of what the health of the ocean is like."
"My message for policymakers around the whole world is that we stand at a monumental moment in the history of this world, and unless we take effective action right now we will miss the tide," he added.
Approximately 13 per cent of the world's land lies in a protected area, but less than 3 per cent of the ocean's surface is protected - nearly all of that in coastal areas. The United Nations is urging all nations to set aside at least 10 per cent of their waters as a network of well-managed and well-designed MPAs by 2020.
In his final swim, Mr. Pugh overcame the cold waters of the North Sea and the fierce tides of London's River Thames to deliver a petition to United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to do more to support MPAs.
Mr. Pugh's pioneering campaign has sought to encourage policymakers in each of the countries he visited to meet the 10 per cent target, as well as educate the public and media about MPAs and their benefits.
"The establishment of Marine Protected Areas is a critical component of global efforts to reverse the degradation of our oceans," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. "UNEP applauds Lewis Pugh's latest expedition, which has spotlighted the importance of MPAs and increased global attention to the plight of the world's oceans."
"Land-based pollution, poorly managed coastal development, overfishing and climate change are all major threats which can be reduced if governments work together and set ambitious targets. Over the last 40 years, the UNEP Regional Seas Programme has actively supported member states in such efforts, including in the creation and management of Marine Protected Areas," he added.
Mr. Pugh drew the attention of many high profile dignitaries during his challenge, including Prince Albert II of Monaco and Desmond Tutu, who expressed their continued support for his efforts to raise awareness among the world's public and policymakers on the need for more MPAs.
Many swimmers also rallied to his side through extreme conditions, braving choppy and heavily polluted waters, to show their support for his mission and to urge him along on his journey to becoming the first person to swim the seven seas.
The Seven Swims in the Seven Seas for One Reason campaign was sponsored by the Living Oceans Foundation, Seacom and The Oak Foundation.