The Blog

Light at the end of the Tunnel

26 January 2020

Your Comments:

  1. Denise Wilkin
    January 27, 2020 at 10:22 am

    You are a total hero and inspiration to swimmers and climate change activists! Respect!!

  2. Innes Boyd
    January 28, 2020 at 6:25 am

    Beyond the lanes now had a new template! An amazing effort and raising awareness in a spectacular fashion. Well done Lewis.

  3. Aline Green
    January 28, 2020 at 8:14 pm

    Wow what an incredible thing to do and experience

  4. J Merwanji
    January 29, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    Congratulations to Lewis Pugh for not only his training and physical endurance in his swim, but his commitment to making the world aware of climate change.

  5. Eva Cram
    January 29, 2020 at 6:20 pm

    I’ve not written on my blog, Moms Hugs, for quite some time ~ since May of 2013 to be exact.

    Your description of swimming in a river inside an Antarctic ice flow really got my attention, as I hope it does the rest of the world!

    I sent it to my daughter & her husband, forest pathologists (USFS), who are very alarmed the world doesn’t take the science of climate change seriously. They spent 3 weeks vacationing in the National Glacier Park & Canadian Rockies ~ because the glaciers are melting so fast now. I also sent it to my granddaughter (majoring in bio-chem engineering). She is just as worried about having children in the future. I tell her being a mother & a scientist is not for wimps.

    With your permission, I would like to bring my blog up to date with your description of Antarctic melting ~ with the link to your blog, of course.

    Thank you ~ Eva aka Moms

  6. Tony sellmeyer
    January 31, 2020 at 8:41 am

    Well done Lewis and specially for getting out there to ram your point home

  7. Mary Nelson
    February 4, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing how very scary and how very brave. You have definitely impressed me with your message! Thank you!

  8. Cate
    February 4, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    Thank you for the brave work you’re doing. I get weary of people saying we need to preserve the planet for our children and grandchildren. Always about us. You seem to understand that other species have innate value and that humans are morally obligated to address the grievous, continuing harm we do them regardless of whether it benefits us.

  9. Susan Clayton
    February 4, 2020 at 11:23 pm

    What an inspiration! The colors are beautiful and the story is riveting! Thank you for championing this cause! I have shared with quite a few!Thank you!

  10. Vinsen
    February 4, 2020 at 11:25 pm

    Very cold temperatures,and the thickness of the ice that freezes,makes all the living must of fight from the cold.And you also struggle to get out of the ice,thanks to the help of others.

  11. Alenka Mali
    February 5, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    I love these photos, such an interesting read too.

  12. cosmas
    February 7, 2020 at 11:15 am


  13. Dharshini
    February 10, 2020 at 3:11 am

    Nice work Buddy.

  14. Erika
    February 12, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    I am curious to know what you will be doing in Russia and once you travel to Beijing to encourage the decision to support the agreement. Would love to learn more about that. Great job, I’m very impressed with the risks you’re willing to take to protect our planet.

  15. Rahul Anand
    February 13, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Amazingly described. Can actually feel the effort.

  16. Vasu Patel
    February 14, 2020 at 3:35 am

    Such a amazing photography. My heart wants to go there once.

  17. harry
    February 14, 2020 at 8:11 am

    very inspiring

  18. Anthony Rebello
    February 17, 2020 at 12:24 am

    So cool!

  19. Nicoletta
    February 18, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    simply.. RESPECT!! my best regards

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I didn’t realise the world contained so many different shades of blue.

I was surrounded by ice, with the light refracting back at me from every side. I’ve never been more dazzled.

I was in East Antarctica, I was underneath the ice sheet, and I was swimming. It wasn’t exactly what I had planned.


It started out a luminous turquoise, then became royal blue. There were walls of ice all around me, and a carved ceiling of ice above me. I swam around a corner and the colour became indigo, around the next corner and it was a psychedelic blue. Further along and it turned to violet – and then became so dark I had to take my goggles off to see where I was swimming.

That’s when I realised just how dangerous my situation was.

There is a saying that the darkest hour is just before dawn. I was halfway through the tunnel, and virtually blind, when I heard an almighty boom above my head.8SONIC BOOM

It sounded like someone had fired a cannon inside the tunnel. I knew what that sound meant: the ice was on the move.

I peered up into the darkness and thought, ‘Oh no, not now!’ I couldn’t turn around and swim back against the flow of water. I had to push on.

Swimming in a dark tunnel with sharp stalactites hanging just above the water necessitated a slow and careful stroke. But I’ve never swum as fast as I did to get out of that tunnel! All the blues in the world were not as beautiful as the light I saw as I emerged at the end of it.

I swam for 10 minutes and 17 seconds. It felt like 10 days before the team finally pulled me out.

The water temperature was just above 0°C, the air temperature well below that, and I was frozen to my core.


East Antarctica is the coldest place on earth. Even so, everywhere I looked there was water rushing off the ice-sheet, carving long ravines deep into the ice sheet, or pooling into supra-glacial lakes.

Antarctica is melting.

Scientists from the University of Durham recently discovered over 65,000 lakes on the surface of the East Antarctic ice sheet. This coincides with significant melting of the sea ice around the coast of Antarctica.5No one had ever swum down one of these rivers before. They are not only freezing cold, but the ice can suddenly crack and the river can drain down a moulin at a terrifying speed to the bedrock hundreds of metres below. That meltwater then lubricates the bedrock, which causes the ice-sheet to become unstable; huge chunks then break loose and slide into the sea.

So why was I attempting to swim here?  Quite simply to demonstrate the rapid changes that are taking place in Antarctica, and to call for the urgent establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around Antarctica, starting with a one million km2  MPA here, in East Antarctica.

An MPA will protect this last wilderness from the industrial overfishing that has devastated all the oceans of the world, and crucially make this region more resilient to the climate crisis.3DIPLOMACY ON ICE

I now head to Moscow, where I will encourage the Russian government to protect the waters around this mighty but fragile continent. Russia and China hold the key, since all the other nations responsible for protecting this region have agreed to the East Antarctica MPA. Later I will travel to Beijing.

Finally, at the end of the year world leaders will gather in Glasgow for the COP26 Conference on Climate Change. I have no doubt whatsoever that we now face a climate emergency. There can be light at the end of this tunnel, but only if they take serious decisive action right now.

My message to them is simple: step up, or step aside. The time for talking has run out.


LEWIS PUGH is an endurance swimmer and the UN Patron of the Oceans

Pics via Kelvin Trautman