Endurance swimmer and University of Cape Town professor, Lewis Pugh

The British swimming association says endurance athlete Lewis Pugh, who completed his 530-kilometre swim along the length of the English Channel from Land’s End to Dover, has become the first swimmer ever to do so.


Endurance swimmer and University of Cape Town professor, Lewis Pugh, completed a 560 kilometre swim along the length of the English Channel from Land’s End to Dover, on Wednesday last week. The 48-year-old, who is estimated to have made more than 500 000 strokes across 49 days, was accompanied to the finish line on Shakespeare Beach by dozens of supporters from a local swimming club.

The renowned environmentalist, who was appointed as adjunct professor in International Law at University of Cape Town in 2017, has been described as the “Sir Edmund Hillary of swimming”.

Endurance swimmer and University of Cape Town professor, Lewis Pugh

Pugh has become the first person to swim the English Channel length, according to the British swimming association, but the incredible South African had an important message when reaching Dover.

“I urge the UK Government to properly protect its waters. Currently, only 7 square kms out of 750,000 is fully protected. In the rest of our waters, we have shipping, oil and gas drilling, gunnery exercises, industrial fishing and aggregate removal. Scientists are clear that we need to be protecting at least 30% of our oceans by 2030 if they are going to be able to stand a chance of recovery and be sustainable.

During this swim, I’ve seen virtually no wildlife – aside from a few birds, a few dolphins and one turtle. It shows that our oceans have been very badly over-fished. I have also seen plastic on every beach from Land’s End to Dover. We have taken the fish out of the ocean and replaced them with plastic.

The British government now has to lead. We need urgent action. Our oceans are not a side issue. If we don’t act now, we will see the collapse these ecosystems, they will not be able to recover.”

Pugh was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world, and he frequently swims in vulnerable ecosystems to draw attention to their plight but he is best known for undertaking the first swim across the North Pole in 2007 to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice. In 2010 he swam across a glacial lake on Mount Everest to draw attention to the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas, and the impact the reduced water supply will have on peace in the region.

He undertakes all of his swims, even those in the Polar Regions, according to Channel Swimming Rules – i.e. in just a Speedo costume, cap and goggles.

In 2010 Pugh was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum for his “potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world through inspiring leadership” and in 2013, was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame! It was also that year that the United Nations appointed him as the UN Patron of the Oceans.

In 2016 he played a pivotal role in creating the largest marine reserve in the world in the Ross Sea off Antarctica. The negotiations required consensus among 24 nations and the EU, a number of which had long standing disputes with one another. The media coined the term “Speedo Diplomacy” to describe his efforts swimming in the icy waters of Antarctica and shutting between the USA and Russia to help negotiate the final agreement.

Pugh has now conquered almost every endurance swim one can imagine! The most recent swim, a punishing 530 km from the United Kingdom’s Land’s End, all the way to Dover is part of his bigger campaign to bring attention to the plight of our oceans and to get the world on board to fully protect a third of the world’s oceans by 2030.

Endurance swimmer and University of Cape Town professor, Lewis Pugh

Sources: Wikipedia | Lewis Pugh | Twitter
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