09 Aug 2018 Story Oceans & seas

Swimming with a purpose

Kelvin Trautman

Glowsticks, jellyfish, vomit and a whole lot of swimming. Those are just some of the ingredients in endurance swimmer and UN Environment Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh’s latest effort to raise awareness about marine protected areas and ocean health.

Pugh, who has previously done swims both in the Arctic and in Antarctica, has taken on his biggest challenge yet: swimming the length of the English Channel. He is the first person ever attempting to do so, wearing only swimming trunks, cap and googles. The swim kicked off on 12 July and Pugh is now just passed the halfway point, having swum more than half of the 560 kilometres he needs in order to complete his attempt.

An endeavor of this magnitude does obviously not come without challenges, even for a very seasoned swimmer like Lewis Pugh. On his blog, he writes about how he has had to puke as a result of having swallowed too much sea water, how he puts glowsticks on his hands and under his swim cap so that his crew can see him when he swims in the dark, and how he is losing weight and never seems to be getting enough sleep. 

Photo by Kelvin Trautman

Perhaps the biggest challenge so far, however, was when the endurance swimmer discovered the densest bloom of jellyfish he had ever seen, describing it as “endless in every direction”, with the jellyfish hardy looking “like pacifists”. Because of Channel Swimming Association rules, Pugh is only allowed to wear swimming trunks, a cap and googles, meaning there would be nothing protecting him from the stings of the jellyfish. Nonetheless, he decided to make an attempt. He lasted eight minutes, swimming through what he describes as a “minefield”, before crawling up the ladder of his expedition ship and falling onto the stern, having suffered more stings than he could count. Pugh notes that the fact these jellyfish are not challenged shows the effects that climate change is having on the English channel.

The situation is further exasperated because of unsustainable fishing practices

Photo by Kelvin Trautman

When Pugh subjects himself to this kind of extreme pain, it is not really about the sportsmanship, it is about something bigger. The UN Environment Patron of the Oceans is a man on a mission – he wants to bring attention to the issue of ocean health, in particular that of marine protected areas. These are areas of marine waters that have restrictions put on them in terms of what activities are allowed, and Pugh wants more of them. His swim is part of the Worldwide Action for Ocean campaign, which calls on governments to fully protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030.

Pugh is also focusing on marine plastic pollution, noting how he is seeing an ever-increasing amount of plastic in the ocean. With plastics in the ocean set to outweigh fish by 2050, floating plastic is one of the most pressing environmental problems of our time, which is why UN Environment launched the Clean Seas campaign in February 2017. No one can solve the problem of marine litter alone, but we can all do our part.


To learn more about what you can do, visit the Clean Seas website.