Lewis Pugh Fights A Turbulent Red Sea, But His Fight For the World's Oceans Continues

Lewis Pugh Fights A Turbulent Red Sea, But His Fight For the World’s Oceans Continues

16 days after leaving Tiran Island, Saudi Arabia, Lewis Pugh came ashore in Hurghada, Egypt after spending the entire time either swimming in the 123.42 km Red Sea Swim or aboard his escort vessel.

He planned to finish his unprecedented cross-border swim in 15 days, but along the way, he hit several days of rough seas. His total time in the water was 46 hours 13 minutes 44 seconds over 25 different swim stages in water that averaged 27.3°C.

Similar to his pioneering swims on Mount Everest, the North Pole, and Antarctica among other places, Pugh swam with a specific purpose that goes far beyond completing a particular swim. It was a difficult – symbolic – swim with profound meaning. He swam across the Red Sea to highlight the impact of climate change on coral reefs, which support essential biodiversity, ahead of the UN Climate Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh held between November 6th – 18th.

The Red Sea is home to some of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs, and the most resistant to climate change. The purpose of the swim was to highlight the speed of the Climate Crisis ahead of COP27, where Pugh will urge all nations to drastically cut their emissions and for at least 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030.

During the 16 days, Pugh swam over beautiful coral reefs and crossed one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world through the Gulf of Suez. His swim was specifically timed to coincide with COP27 , where world leaders will gather at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt for the UN Climate Conference. There, Pugh will take images, videos, and his personal experiences of his swim to dramatically urging all nations to tackle the Climate Crisis.

The Red Swim Swim saw Pugh leave Tiran Island in Saudi Arabia, on October 11th and reach Egypt today after swimming between 6 and 12 km per day.

When he rounded the southernmost point of the Sinai Peninsula at Ras Mohammed National Park, he described the sea life as spectacular. “There’s arid desert as far as the eye can see, but under the water, life explodes. The most challenging part of the swim was crossing the Gulf of Suez when sea conditions became very challenging. In all my years of swimming, I’ve never experienced anything like this. There were hazards coming at me from every angle. Extreme heat, high winds, big waves, sharks, oil tankers and container ships. I had to fight for every meter.”

But his real fight has just begun. Coral reefs support 25% of all ocean life and are the most biologically diverse ecosystem on Earth. “If we lose our coral reefs, we will not just drive many thousands of species into extinction, we will lose an entire ecosystem, on which we depend. This would be unprecedented in human history. Coral reefs are the nurseries of our oceans, and home to some of the most incredible life on earth. I refuse to accept that we could lose them in my lifetime.

I’ve been swimming in the world’s oceans for 35 years, and during that time I’ve seen them change dramatically. The biggest changes I’ve seen are in the Polar Regions, and in coral reefs. Both are affected by rising temperatures: the poles are melting, and the coral is dying. Ice and coral are the Ground Zeros of the Climate Crisis. These changes are happening before our very eyes; as evidence of global warming, they are indisputable.

Scientists warn that if we heat our planet by more than 1.5°C, we will lose 70% of the world’s coral reefs. If we heat it by 2°C, 99% of coral reefs will die. We are currently on track for at least a 2.2°C increase.

UN Secretary General António Guterres calls the Climate Crisis “a code red for humanity.” Pugh reiterates his warning, “Coral reefs are the barometers that illustrate clearly what happens when we heat our planet. Every fraction of a degree now matters.”

Half the world’s coral reefs are believed to have died since the 1950’s due to warming sea temperatures, combined with overfishing, pollution and reef disturbance. Researchers have found that the coral in the Red Sea is more resilient to warming and acidification than coral in other places, such as the Great Barrier Reef, where bleaching events are increasingly common. If temperatures continue to rise as predicted, the coral of the Red Sea could be the last surviving coral on earth, so it is imperative that we protect it.

During the Red Sea Swim, Lewis was joined by swimmers from both Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “I always envisioned the Coral Swim as a gathering of swimmers from the region coming together to protect the Red Sea,” said Pugh who was joined in the water for the first three day by Dr Mariam Saleh Bin Laden, a passionate humanitarian from Saudi Arabia. Mariam swam 9 km across the Straits of Tiran, becoming the first Arab, first Saudi, and first woman to swim from Saudi Arabia to Egypt.  

On Day 3, Egyptian swimmer Dr Mostafa “Zodiac” Zaki joined the swim. Pugh commented, “Mostafa played such a crucial role in this swim. He drove me forward and kept me motivated in the most difficult sea conditions. Every day, he jumped in the water and powered his way through big waves, with a massive smile on his face.”

Mostafa recalled, “Lewis is truly a role model. Swimming stroke by stroke next to the UNEP Patron of the Oceans in the Red Sea is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is unforgettable. Every day I’m learning from him, about swimming and about life.”

On the Red Sea Swim the Lewis Pugh Foundation has partnered with HEPCA – the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association. HEPCA is a network of scientists, professional divers, industry experts and community members, all passionate and proactive about protecting the resources of the Red Sea. HEPCA is calling for the Great Fringing Reef of the Egyptian Red Sea to be declared a multiple-use protected area. There is clear scientific evidence that the Great Fringing Reef, which is characterized by high resilience and tolerance to climate change, could be the last refuge for coral reefs worldwide.

The Lewis Pugh Foundation wishes to thank the Saudi Arabian and Egyptian authorities for their support and permissions during the Red Sea Swim.

The Lewis Pugh Foundation also wishes to thank HEPCA for their ceaseless work to protect the corals of the Red Sea, as well as for their help and expertise during the Red Sea Swim.

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