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Environmentalists use different tactics to raise public awareness. Some organize rallies, others set up petitions, and then there is Lewis Gordon Pugh. This activist and adventurer highlights the planet's woes by swimming in the vulnerable ecosystems of some of the world's coldest waters. If that sends a chill down your spine, consider this - the activist swims wearing only a Speedo swimsuit!
His past endeavors include being the first human to swim in the Arctic - a feat that earned him the nickname of 'human polar bear'. In 2010, Pugh took the plunge into the Khumbu Glacier Lake on the slopes of the Himalayas to draw attention to the mountain's rapidly melting glaciers. However, his latest adventure in the southernmost part of the planet is the most difficult and dangerous one he has undertaken thus far.
From February 13 to March 7, Pugh conducted a series of five swims in Antarctica's Ross Sea. During each of the swims that were spread over three weeks, Pugh spent about 20 minutes in water temperatures as low as minus 1.7°C (28.94°F), just 0.3°C shy of the freezing point of salt water. While that may not seem like much, Pugh says that any additional time spent in water this cold would kill him. If that wasn't bad enough, he also had to watch out for the aggressive Leopard seals and killer sharks, that inhabit the freezing waters.
Fortunately, besides chased down by an overzealous seal, Pugh emerged relatively unscathed. While the swims did help Pugh establish yet another record for being the first to swim in the most southerly part of the planet, that was not the reason he pursued the life-threatening mission.
The 45-year-old hopes that his swims will persuade the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to set aside a marine protection area the size of UK, Germany and France in the Ross Sea. Home to the Antarctic Toothfish, the Colossal Squid, and the Emperor Penguin, it is currently one of the most pristine areas in the world. While there has been some commercial fishing in the region since the 1990's, the ecosystem has yet to be affected. Pugh hopes that he can convince the officials to put a protection order in place, before that changes.
The activist realizes his stunt may not convince the members of CCAMLR which consists of representatives from 24 countries and the European Union. However, it will not be for lack of trying and that, is all Pugh can do!
The British endurance swimmer who also happens to be a marine lawyer has not always been an activist. Inspired by explorers like Roald Amundsen (first person to traverse the Antarctica) and Edmund Hillary (first person to climb Mt. Everest), Pugh decided to become a pioneer swimmer. However, as he was trying to fulfill his quest to be first to swim across all seven oceans, he experienced firsthand, the effects of global warming. The alarming rate at which he observed glaciers melting and animals disappearing, transformed him into one of the world's most passionate ocean advocates.
As to how he manages to endure the freezing waters? In addition to training in frozen pools and putting on some weight (have you seen a cold whale?), Pugh also uses a swim technique that is unique to him. Called 'anticipatory thermogenesis,' it is the ability to raise his body temperature from 98.6°F to 103°F (from 37°C to 39.5°C), and heart rate from 70 to 160 beats a second. This is similar to the state of a normal human following a long run, except Lewis does it with the power of his mind! Once he is hot and sweaty, he plunges in!
As for the Speedo? The adventurer says, “Swimming in Speedos shows commitment, courage, and integrity, and it opens doors and gives me access to world leaders!" We sure hope all his hard work to save the Ross Sea pays off.