Chilean Ice-Water Swimmer Bárbara Hernández Makes History with Antarctic Swim for Marine Protection

Chilean Ice-Water Swimmer Bárbara Hernández Makes History with Antarctic Swim for Marine Protection

Chilean ice-water swimmer, Bárbara Hernández, made history by being the first person to swim 2.5 kilometers in the frigid waters of Antarctica.

Hernández’s incredible feat is a testament to her skills as an open-water swimmer. She previously held the Guinness World Record for the fastest ocean mile swim through the Drake Passage in southern Chile.

Hernández’s swim was not just a personal accomplishment, but also a message to the world about the urgent need for greater marine protection in Antarctica. She is part of the Antarctica2020 group of leaders calling for greater conservation efforts in the region and is working closely with the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. In June, there will be a meeting in Santiago, Chile where Hernández will support the call for world leaders to take action to protect the ocean and the continent.

Wearing only a swimsuit in temperatures of 2.2 Celsius and without any protective gear or grease, Hernández braved the icy waters of Chile Bay, Greenwich Island in the Antarctic to complete her swim in 45 minutes and 50 seconds.

Credit for the video is Eduardo Peña

“It has been a dream of mine for years to swim in all seven of the world’s oceans, and I am thrilled that I was able to complete this swim in Antarctica. The physical challenge was tough, but it was all worth it if my message about the need for action to protect these amazing waters is heard,” said Hernández.

At present, there are three large-scale marine protection proposals on the table within the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). These proposals cover almost 4 million square kilometers (1% of the global ocean) in the East Antarctic, Weddell Sea and the Antarctic. Despite being up for agreement for years, progress has been hampered by geopolitics, with China and Russia yet to come onboard. To help move past this impasse, a special CCAMLR meeting dedicated to marine protected areas has been scheduled for 19-23 June in Santiago, Chile.

Hernández’s swim has been a source of inspiration for many, including Claire Christian, the Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, who said, “Bárbara’s courage in undertaking this swim in the name of Antarctic Ocean protection is truly inspiring. Her bravery shows the urgency of the issue and we hope that leaders take notice and take decisive action at the CCAMLR meeting in June to secure protection of these three large areas.”

The climate crisis is putting Antarctica and its surrounding ocean and wildlife under increasing pressure, and concentrated fishing for krill is further exacerbating the situation. Krill is a critical food source for many of Antarctica’s wildlife, such as whales, penguins, and seals, and marine protected areas are crucial for building resilience for ocean habitats and wildlife to adapt to these changes.

Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean work, said, “It has been 10 years since CCAMLR members agreed to have a network of Southern Ocean marine protected areas in place. In that time, we have seen the effects of climate change on the biodiversity of the region and increased fishing for krill, the very heart of the ecosystem. This special CCAMLR meeting in Santiago offers a unique opportunity for leaders to show their commitment to protecting 30% of the global ocean by 2030, including these three large marine protected areas.”

The Chilean government and Navy have been strong supporters of this initiative, with Chile and Argentina being co-proponents of the marine protection proposal in the Antarctic.

Photo credit: Shawn Heinrichs

Resources: PRN

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