Lewis Pugh / Image via Facebook: LewisPughOceans

Lewis Pugh completes historic East Antarctica meltwater swim

On Friday 24 January, Lewis Pugh became the first person in history to swim beneath the Antarctic ice sheet to raise awareness of the climate crisis and to highlight the need for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the region.


Lewis Pugh / Image via Facebook: LewisPughOceans

The UN Patron of the Oceans completed his 1km swim in 10 minutes and 17 seconds, braving water temperatures hovering above 0°C in just a Speedo, a swimming cap and goggles. His route took him through a tunnel created by meltwater, adding the risk that at any moment cracks in the ice could form, creating a moulin that would drain the river in the direction of the bedrock below.


The purpose of Pugh’s swim

The purpose of this incredible swim is to raise awareness about the need to act on the climate emergency and also to call for the creation of an MPA, one million km2 in size in East Antarctica. In his blog, Pugh writes:

“An MPA will protect this last wilderness from the industrial overfishing that has devastated all the oceans of the world, and crucially make this region more resilient to the climate crisis.”

Despite East Antarctica being one of the coldest places on Earth, Pugh witnessed water gushing off glaciers, carving ravines and forming supra-glacial lakes, which scientists at the University of Durham estimate number more than 65 000 in East Antarctica alone.

Pugh has put his body on the line several times before to raise awareness of our melting polar regions and is in no doubt about the scale of the climate emergency we’re in.

The world was first made aware of climate change in 1988, when Dr James Hansen testified to the US Congress. Yet successive governments have failed to act on the science, which has resulted in our current crisis. More than 11 000 scientists have also signed a letter warning about the threat global heating poses to “natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”

Pugh will now visit Moscow to call on the Russian government to protect the waters around Antarctica, and will later travel to Beijing as Russia and China are the only two countries yet to agree to the East Antarctica MPA.

COP26 climate conference

In November, when world leaders gather for the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Pugh will call on them to take urgent action on climate change.

Events like the recent Australian wildfires give us a glimpse of what our new reality will look like if leaders fail to implement the steps necessary to drastically phase out the use of fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions.

Our collective fate rests in the hands of a small few, who thanks to the likes of Pugh, Greta Thunberg, Sir David Attenborough and many others, can no longer ignore nor deny their responsibility.

As Pugh says:

“My message to them is simple: step up, or step aside. The time for talking has run out.”