I’ve been called many things. Pioneer swimmer. Ocean advocate. Environmental campaigner. Spokesperson for the seas. I’ve been all of these things, it’s true. But if I had to sum myself up in one phrase, it would be a ‘realistic optimist’.
I couldn’t do any of the things I do if I didn’t believe with all my heart that people can make a positive difference.
Together with my team I’m about to embark on my most ambitious expedition yet: Seven swims in each of the classical Seven Seas. The logistics are complex. The challenges are many. But the aim is simple: to protect our wonderful seas and their precious marine resources.
We often hear of someone ‘sailing the seven seas’. In ancient sea-faring times, the seven seas that represented the entire world – at least from the classical Greco-Roman perspective – were the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, Black, Red, Arabian and North Seas.
But here’s the irony, and the tragedy: those seven seas that have been the stuff of literature and legends, that have been marvellous and abundant and sustainable since ancient times, are barely surviving.
The North, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas have been drastically overfished. Much of the coral in the Red and Arabian Seas has been bleached. The Black Sea is badly polluted. And the rich wetlands of the Adriatic no longer provide a safe haven for thousands of migrating birds.
But I’m still optimistic about our ability to turn things around. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed every day and do my work. Over the next few weeks that work will include swims in seven beautiful and treacherous and threatened seas. And it won’t be about what I am doing, but why I’m doing it.
I believe that monk seals, coral gardens, manta rays, Bluefin tuna and slender billed curlews can survive and recover, if (and this is the key point) we give them and their habitats the opportunity to do so.
That’s why we are calling on nations to proclaim Marine Protected Areas to safeguard our seas as a matter of extreme urgency. In the same way that terrestrial national parks gave us the Serengeti, the Kruger and Yellowstone, and ensured that future generations could marvel at elephants and lions, bison and wolves.
It’s hard to imagine a world without those wild spaces. It would be a very barren world indeed. But that’s exactly what our seas and oceans will look like if we don’t act now. Less than 3% of the world’s waters are protected. We’re urging policy makers to protect at least 10% of our seas in a network of well-managed and well-designed Marine Protected Areas.
I believe we can do it.
I believe we can halt the devastation of marine life and allow our marine ecosystems the conditions they need to recover.
I’m not alone in this belief. I have a team of dedicated people and organisations helping me. I decided to do the first swim of the expedition in Monaco, where Prince Albert has set aside the whole of his country’s waters as a Marine Protected Area, He’s taken the lead and he’s absolutely passionate about it. I salute him for that.
He understands that we have to do something about the impact we are having on our natural resources, on land and in all our oceans and seas. We have to act with conviction, and with purpose.
If I didn’t believe we could do it, I wouldn’t be diving in to the first of the Seven Seas on Saturday.
Author: Lewis Pugh is an ocean advocate and a pioneer swimmer. In 2010 he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and in 2013 he was appointed Patron of the Oceans by the United Nations Environment Programme. http://lewispugh.com