Taking the plunge for marine conservation

By Lewispugh from Wikimedia Commons

Since it was first completed by Captain Matthew Webb in 1875, there have been 3,951 attempts to swim the English Channel between Dover and Calais. And of those attempts, 1,832 people have completed the swim, a success rate of 46 per cent.

However, endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh is aiming to take the challenge to a whole different level and bring new meaning to the phrase swimming the Channel.

Starting on July 12, he will be swimming the length of it in the latest in a succession of challenges, this one named The Long Swim.

Stretching From West Cornwall to Dover, Pugh will swim roughly 10km each day for 50 days, although in reality he will be finishing as soon as humanly possible.

In accumulating a total of 560km from start to finish Pugh has two aims, one personal and one very much global.

His first is to increase the awareness of marine protected areas.

Before there is a government initiative to develop stringent policies, such as specific marine conservation, we – the British public – need to be made aware of the serious impact pollution and over fishing is having on our environment.

As the United Nations Patron of the Oceans, Pugh has played a crucial role in developing the largest marine conservation reserve in the world in the Ross Sea, bringing diplomacy through his swimming challenges and increasing global awareness.

He has a personal and global passion for change and marine sustainability, leaving a legacy with the challenges he completes. 

By Lewispugh from Wikimedia Commons

Pugh’s second aim is to finish the swim; one day at a time, five hours a day, one hand in front of the other – easy right?!

His biggest concern will initially be hyperthermia from the cold sea, followed by heat exhaustion from the sun, fatigue, the tides, the weather, shipping…and then there’s the jellyfish.

Although there will be a support team along every kick and stroke of the way, swimming for five hours a day is a lonely task, so mental preparation is key.

I have worked in sport for 12 years, with athletes competing at everything from the Olympic Games to running one of the toughest races on Earth, the Marathon Des Sables. 

When working with young athletes, coaches (and parents) often ask how to develop a mentally tough mindset capable to deal with adversity, pressure and success. My response is to try and help them develop grit. 

The Long Swim is grit personified; ‘passion and perseverance for a long-term goal’.

Lewis Pugh after swimming across a glacial lake on Mount Everest (by Lewispugh from Wikimedia Commons)

Lewis Pugh is no stranger to extreme challenges, and has been described as the Sir Edmund Hillary of swimming.

Among his most ambitious undertakings was the first swim across the North Pole in 2007, to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice.

Then three years later, he swam across a glacial lake on Mount Everest to draw attention to the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas.

Even he admits, however, that this latest adventure is his most physically challenging and he has spent months training in waters off South Africa in preparation for his days in the English Channel.

I spoke with Pugh recently and it was clear that he is experienced and aware of the perseverance required both physically and mentally in this challenge. He is also self-aware of what success and setbacks would mean to him personally and globally.

He has put in the mileage, he knows it will be tough and that his body will be telling him to stop.

However, he has also imagined ticking off each stage, chipping away at his daily target, to the point of feeling success when he reaches the white cliffs of Dover, leaving the sea and being praised for achieving the unachievable.

What was most interesting from our conversation was Pugh’s impetuous passion about the ‘bigger picture’. He is not doing The Long Swim for himself, he is doing it for us. 

In Pugh’s eyes, he is not merely motivated to achieve, he is committed to global change because it is the right action to take for us and our planet. It is the same drive which has seen him named UN Patron of the Oceans and, closer to home, awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science by the University of Plymouth in 2015.

His gritty approach will test his plethora of perseverance and passion, and is a lesson for all spectators to strive towards our own selfless goals, work hard one day at a time, and act now to impact change.

The Long Swim has the potential to appropriately conserve marine protected areas throughout the UK if we show our support and passion for change.

We have the potential to become world leaders in protecting coastal waters and Pugh could be the catalyst to enable global change, accountability and responsibility.

Lewis Pugh after receiving his honorary degree in 2015

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