Swimming among Emperors
Lewis Pugh is a renowned endurance athlete and United Nations Patron of the Oceans. He is set to make history as he attempts a one-kilometer swim in the most extreme conditions, in a bid to call for the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around Antarctica. SUSE is the proud sole gold sponsor for this historic swim, as part of the company’s larger sustainability efforts. Here is a pre-swim blog from Lewis:
I love all penguins. I’ve met quite a few in my time, from Adélies to Gentoos to Kings. But the Emperor is definitely the most impressive. At over a metre high they are the tallest and heaviest of all the penguins. They can also stay under water for a full 20 minutes without coming up for air. Which must be why their scientific name, Aptenodytes forsteri, means “without-wings-diver”.
Diving without wings
Twenty minutes about is as long as I can safely be in the water when I attempt to swim one kilometre across an Antarctic supra-glacial lake. I expect the temperature to be close to 0°C, so any longer than that and I would die from hypothermia.
I’ve been acclimatising my body for this swim for months now, swimming at incrementally lower and lower temperatures. Last week I arrived here in East Antarctica, the coldest place on earth, for the final preparations for my swim on the 23 January.
It will be the most challenging swim of my life.
Scientists from the University of Durham recently discovered over 65,000 lakes on the surface of the ice sheet in East Antarctica. This coincides with significant melting of the sea ice around the coastline of Antarctica.
No one has ever swum across one of these lakes before. They are not only cold, they are unstable – they can suddenly crack and drain out in a terrifying rush.
So why am I attempting to swim 1km across one of them? Quite simply to demonstrate the rapid changes that are taking place in Antarctica, just as the world is burning, from Australia to Siberia.
While I have the world’s attention, I’ll be calling for the urgent establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas around Antarctica. Starting with a one million km2 MPA in East Antarctica.
Protecting our Oceans
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are one of the most effective means we have to protect our oceans from overfishing and other means of exploitation.
Healthy oceans are more robust at withstanding the challenges of climate change. They also counteract global warming by acting as carbon sinks. And healthy oceans thrive with life, from whales ands seals and penguins, to the tiny krill that supports them all.
For eight long years the world has been trying to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in East Antarctica. There are two things lacking: consensus and a sense of urgency.
Under international law, 25 nations plus the EU need to agree on any measures to protect the continent. Twenty-three nations and the EU agree. Just Russia and China still need to be persuaded.
I have two very special Environmental Diplomats with me here in Antarctica. One is Russian ice hockey legend and UN Patron of the Polar Regions Slava Fetisov, the greatest defenseman in history, and someone who enjoys the same level of admiration as Pelé does in Brazil. The other is José María Figueres, former president of Costa Rica and chairman of Antarctica 2020, a group of world leaders who have been working diligently behind the scenes to bring the nations responsible for protecting Antarctica together.
After the swim, José, Slava and I plan to visit an Emperor Penguin colony. We’ll spend some quiet time there, among the birds and the ice. Then we will travel to Moscow to meet Russia’s leaders. We’ll take a message from Antarctica, a place of peace, unity, and scientific cooperation. A place where Emperor penguins rule supreme; a place that deserves to be protected, for its own sake, and the sake of everyone on our precious planet.