In 1875, Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim from Dover to Calais. Since then, some 1,800 people have swum across the English Channel. But no one has ever swum its entire length.
During July and August 2018, I will attempt to swim the full length of the English Channel, from Land's End to Dover, in just my cap, goggles and Speedo swimming trunks.
The 560 km distance is equivalent to 16 English Channel crossings, and will take an estimated 50 days, depending on tides and weather.
Every lifestyle decision we take, every purchase we make, has an impact on the kind of planet we want to live on.
Our world needs clean and healthy seas. And we are the only ones who can make that happen.
This swim will mark the beginning of a worldwide campaign to ensure that 30% of our oceans are fully protected by 2030.
In addition, we need to change the tide on plastic pollution by stopping the amount of plastic pouring into our oceans – and roll up our sleeves to help remove the junk that's already there.
Changing the world's oceans for the better starts with us, and it starts at home.
I've been swimming in our oceans for over 30 years, and the changes I've seen have been horrifying.
I began swimming in vulnerable ecosystems to draw attention to the impact of our actions on our oceans. I saw enormous chunks of ice slide off Arctic glaciers. I swam over bleached coral killed by rising sea temperatures, and over the bones of whales hunted to the edge of extinction. I saw plastic pollution in the most remote parts of the oceans, and garbage piling up so thick on city beaches that you could no longer see the sand.
I’ve undertaken long distance swims in every ocean in the world, including the freezing waters of the Arctic and Antarctic, but now I'm taking it to the next level.
I'm undertaking my toughest swim yet, so that I can call on the British Government, and all the governments of the world, to strengthen our ocean protection.
Because doing the right thing has to start at home.
Right now the United Kingdom has a series of 'paper parks' that look good in theory, but do next to nothing to protect the waters and wildlife they are meant to safeguard.
On paper, the UK is doing quite well towards meeting its commitment to protect 10% of its waters by 2020.
But when you unpack the numbers, they tell a very different story. Not only are most of those protected areas in overseas territories rather than home waters, but the kind of protection they offer is sometimes worse than none: it gives us a false sense of security that something is being done, while in fact our oceans are in deep crisis.
The sad truth is that of the 750,000 square kilometres of seas around the UK, only 7 square kilometres are fully protected.
Mull over that for a minute. That means a mere one hundred thousandth of UK waters are fully protected from exploitation. It is outrageous! We can do much, much better.
We must protect our waters properly.
full protection from all extractive or damaging uses - this is the 'gold standard' of marine protection;
strong protection allows limited indigenous use, recreational or artisanal fishing;
moderate protection which includes a mixed bag of benefits, usually with some restrictions but otherwise continued use: for example, this could include sharing a location with a windfarm;
negligible protection is what most of our British MPAs enjoy at the moment. Effectively they continue with 'business as usual', albeit with an official stamp.
Professor Callum Roberts, a Marine Conservation Biologist at the University of York, was chief scientific advisor to the BBC for their flagship television series Blue Planet II. He doesn't mince words when it comes to the crisis our seas are in, and the fact that our toothless MPAs just don't have any bite. "Effectively we don't really have any improvement over what there was prior to the establishment of these protected areas."
A protected area network that doesn't protect is worse than useless, he argues, because it gives the illusion of protection. "People are not going to be angry or campaign for protection if they think the job is being taken care of."
Gold standard, fully-protected MPAs work, wherever you put them. They are a "universal tool" that allows wildlife to bounce back, whether in the Polar Regions, the tropics or the temperate zones.
The UK has 750,000 square kilometres of coastal waters. We need just 75,000 of these to be fully protected in order to reach our 10% target by 2020. We would comfortably exceed that target if we just ensure that our existing paper MPAs receive proper protection!
That would place us in a position to lead the charge towards the next target: 30% of all oceans fully protected by 2030.
"There is now general consensus among the scientific community that we need to protect much more than just 10% of our oceans, for them to have any chance of recovering. This situation in our oceans is very serious. It’s now a race against time. I can’t impress on nations strongly enough that we need to tackle this crisis with urgency. Our oceans are changing in front of our eyes. We've seen wonderful results in fully protected MPAs around the world. We want to see one third of our waters properly protected to ensure they can recover and thrive into the future. And so we wish our Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh all the best on his Long Swim.”
- Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment.
It's everywhere, and it's virtually indestructible.
Plastic bags, ear buds, plastic cutlery, crisp packets, plastic bottles, fishing nets, cigarette butts, straws – if you go down to a beach anywhere in the world today you'll find these and more. Most of them will have been used just once, for only a few minutes, and then discarded. All too often they find their way to the ocean, where they will remain for hundreds of years. Sometimes they travel thousands of kilometres before they end up on your beach. Plastic waste has gone global.
Our campaign partner Surfers Against Sewage is working with the citizens of the United Kingdom to clear plastic from our beaches and our seas.
Surfers Against Sewage is one of the UK's best-loved marine conservation charities. Driven by people who actively use our oceans and beaches, the charity works with over 75,000 beach clean volunteers annually to take a stand against plastic pollution.
The charity has also pioneered Plastic Free Communities, a movement designed to unite and empower cities, towns and villages to reduce their collective plastic footprint. Plastic Free Communities has already reached over 300 cities and towns globally.
Find out how you can paticipate in a beach clean up near you, and be part of the #PlasticFreeCommunity movement, here.
I've seen plastic in the Arctic, in the Antarctic, and everywhere in between. I’ve seen it floating far out at sea and deep underwater. It’s everywhere. There is now no place in the oceans without plastic pollution. And it is having a devastating effect on marine wildlife.
We are now finding micro-plastics in the smallest creatures on earth, and the largest; from zooplankton all the way up to blue whales. We are all becoming plastic.
Plastic is destroying our oceans, and there's only one thing that can stop it: You.
Every purchase you make is a decision about the kind of planet you want to live on.
If every one of us took this message into our hearts and into our homes and stopped using single use plastic, we could stop plastic pollution at source.
If every one of us participated in a local beach clean-up, or became part of a #PlasticFreeCommunity, we could begin to rid the sea of its scourge of plastic.
It starts with how we treat our seas and what we put in them.
That means being conscious of every piece of plastic we use, and what we do with it when we're done with it. It means not buying unsustainably sourced fish; and it means cutting our carbon emissions with vigour.
Our seas and oceans have an amazing ability to restore themselves, if they are given the space and the time to do it. This means more effective MPAs. We need full protection for at least 30% of our oceans by 2030.
This will allow oceans to build resilience. Fully protected Marine Protected Areas give oceans a chance to recover and provide healthy, full and diverse safe havens for wildlife. This in turn gives them a chance to adapt to the huge environmental changes that are already underway.
"In 1800 only 2% of our seas were fished; the rest was a de facto protected area. Two hundred years later it is the opposite. Now only 2% of the ocean is properly protected. We need more. The only spaces that will be safe for nature are the ones that we deliberately create." - Professor Callum Roberts
There are many examples of well-functioning, gold-standard Marine Protected Areas in the world: Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Park, Pitcairn and Chagos in British overseas territories, Apo Island in the Philippines, Tsitsikama Reserve off the east coast of South Africa, Florida's Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S. and
Mexico's Cabo Pulmo, which has seen a spectacular recovery in marine wildlife.
If the British government raised the level of protection in our existing MPAs, as well as creating some additional strategic areas, our oceans would be able to recover.
30% by 2030 is attainable - we just have to have the will, and the willpower.
That's our 30/30 vision.
There are very few swimmers who can swim 33kms non-stop in cold water – in fact, more people have summited Everest than have swum from Dover to Calais.
The average temperature of an English Channel swim is 14 - 18°C; after swimming in it for 10 or 15 hours, that feels like ice.
I will be swimming the equivalent of 16 Channel crossings. Cold and exhaustion will be my biggest adversaries. Not to mention what I meet in the water; the Channel is the world's busiest shipping lane, and has plenty of jellyfish.
I'm going to swim every day, set a GPS point, then come in to harbour to anchor for the night. The next day we'll sail out to the previous day's GPS point and start again.
I'll aim to swim about 5 hours per day. Depending on conditions and tides, I should cover between 10 and 20 kilometres daily. Then I'll rest.
Due to the configuration of the UK coastline, I won't always hug the coast, but will swim across larger bays such as Lyme Bay. Along the coast, and wherever possible, we will invite members of the public to join us in the water.
There will be bad-weather days when I can't swim. Endurance swimmers have waited weeks for the right conditions to attempt a Channel crossing, with many having to give up and return home, delaying attempts until the following year. There will be other days when the wind and the tides will be in my favour; you've got to get the timing right, or you'll find yourself going backwards.
And I will not stop until I see the white cliffs of Dover.
Our swim will be verified by the Channel Swimming Association. Since its formation, in 1927, the CSA has been entrusted with the task of observing and authenticating Cross-Channel Swims in the Strait of Dover.
To inspire people around the world to protect and preserve our oceans,
and all that live in them, for a peaceful and sustainable future.
Land’s End - 12 July
Plymouth - 21 July
Dartmouth - 28 July
Weymouth - 5 Aug
Bournemouth - 11 Aug
Portsmouth - 15 August
Brighton - 19 August