Ocean advocate Lewis Pugh swam with icebergs to call for a marine protected area in Antarctica

Lewis Pugh, Patron of the Oceans for the United Nations, has completed five Antarctic swims intended to jolt Russia into backing his call for a giant marine protected area (MPA) encompassing the entire Ross Sea. The trouble is, Russia has vetoed the idea for each of the past four years.

Whale Tail

In the stretch of sea nearest to the South Pole where the air temperature was minus 37C, and dressed solely in a pair of swimming trunks, Lewis explains that the water he was jumping into “is so dense because it’s about to freeze.” Salt water freezes at minus 1.8C. It was minus 1C when he got in.

The idea was to swim a kilometre – “a proper symbolic swim” – but immediately he could see the water freezing on his arms as he lifted them for each stroke: “I get to 330 metres and I realise if I carry on any longer I’m actually going to lose my hands right here.” It took an hour in a hot water shower to get his core body temperature back up to normal.

Lewis Pugh post-Ross Sea swim - Photo from lewispugh.com

When his cruise ship docked in Argentina, he flew immediately to Moscow to press the case for a Ross Sea protection area. He gave a packed press conference, and met with Sergei Shoigu, defence minister and head of the Russian Geographical Society, who Lewis says was warm and receptive. To the point that Russia might not veto a Ross Sea MPA for the fifth year in a row? “I’m hoping they’re not going to.”

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