Lewis Pugh to swim length of English Channel

27th July, 2018

Endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh has taken on the challenge of swimming the length of the English Channel, around 350 miles (560km) from Cornwall to Dover.

His ambition is to complete The Long Swim in 50 days, it is the equivalent to 16 English Channel crossings. The swim is to mark the beginning of a worldwide campaign to ensure that 30% of our oceans are fully protected by 2030. “I’m undertaking my toughest swim yet, so that I can call on the British Government, and all the governments of the world, to strengthen our ocean protection,” says Lewis. “Our world needs clean and healthy seas. And we are the only ones who can make that happen.”

Lewis has been swimming in the world’s oceans for over 30 years and the changes he has seen horrify him. “I began swimming in vulnerable ecosystems to draw attention to the impact of our actions on our oceans. I saw enormous chunks of ice slide off Arctic glaciers. I swam over bleached coral killed by rising sea temperatures,” says Lewis. “I saw plastic pollution in the most remote parts of the oceans, and garbage piling up so thick on city beaches that you could no longer see the sand.”

On paper, the UK is doing fairly well towards meeting its commitment to protect 10% of its waters by 2020. But when you look at the detail, there is a different story. Most of the protected areas are in overseas territories, rather than home waters and the kind of protection that is offered is sometimes worse than none. “We are being given a false sense of security that something is being done, while in fact our oceans are in deep crisis,” says Lewis.

Out of the 750,000 square kilometres of seas around the UK, only seven square meters are fully protected. “That means a mere one hundred thousandth of UK waters are fully protected from exploitation – it is outrageous! We can do much, much better.”

Gold standard, fully-protected Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) work, wherever you put them. They are a “universal tool” that allows wildlife to bounce back, whether in the Polar Regions, the tropics or the temperate zones. The UK has 750,000 square kilometres of coastal waters. Just 75,000 of these need to be fully protected in order to reach the 10% target by 2020. “We would comfortably exceed that target if we just ensure that our existing paper MPAs receive proper protection,” says Lewis. “That would place us in a position to lead the charge towards the next target: 30% of all oceans fully protected by 2030.”

The Long Swim can be followed via Sky News’ daily blog.

Photos: Kelvin Trautman