Cold-Water Swimmer Lewis Pugh Breaks Records for the Ross Sea

Cold-Water Swimmer Lewis Pugh Breaks Records for the Ross Sea

Ocean advocate Lewis Pugh took on one of the greatest endurance challenges in the world March 1 when he swam 350 meters (1,150 feet) of icy water in the Bay of Whales in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. With that feat, the United Nations Environment Programme’s Patron for Oceans set the world record for most southerly swim ever documented.

With a water temperature of minus 1 degree Celsius (30 degrees Fahrenheit), an air temperature of minus 37 C (minus 34 F), and 40 knot winds, the swim was a dangerous undertaking. Pugh, who has completed long-distance swims in each of the world’s oceans, called this “the most terrifying place I’ve ever swum.”

Lewis Pugh© Kelvin Trautman

Lewis Pugh swimming in the Bay of Whales.

But the swim was about more than breaking records. Pugh sees it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to draw attention to the plight of the region’s waters and to urge world leaders to create a marine reserve in the Ross Sea.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), made up of 24 countries and the European Union, is the consensus-based group that regulates fisheries and other marine life in the Southern Ocean.

In the past three years, members tried four times without success to win protections for the waters of the Ross Sea and East Antarctic regions, most recently because of opposition from Russia and China.

Russia will chair CCAMLR for the next two years, and Pugh hopes that 2015 will be the year member nations reach a consensus to protect some of the world’s least disturbed waters.

Lewis Pugh© Kelvin Trautman

“Lewis Pugh’s journey through the Ross Sea is a triumph,” said Andrea Kavanagh, who directs Pew’s efforts to protect the Southern Ocean. “His record-breaking swims have helped shine a light on the importance of these near-pristine waters and the crucial role that world leaders play in protecting them for generations to come.”

The Bay of Whales swim broke Pugh’s own record, set just 10 days earlier when he swam in the more northern waters off Cape Adare, also in the Ross Sea. These achievements were part of Pugh’s Five Swims in Antarctica for 1 Reason challenge. He launched his original plan—for swims off Campbell Island, Cape Adare, Cape Evans, the Bay of Whales, and Peter I Island—to bring attention to the need for protected areas in Antarctic waters.

Pugh had to give up on two of the swims because of harsh weather and aggressive sea lions. Still, finishing three of the five is an accomplishment that demonstrates great endurance, strength, and devotion to the cause.