Pugh to swim 7 Seas to put MPAs on global agenda

During August, renowned endurance swimmer and United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh, will be swimming with one purpose: to put Marine Protected Areas on the global agenda.

He will become the first person to undertake a long distance swim in each of the Seven Seas: the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, Black, Red, Arabian and North Sea.

These seas are amongst the most polluted and overfished in the world and Lewis Pugh’s campaign, Seven Swims in the Seven Seas for 1 Reason, will highlight the need for urgent action.

The United Nations is urging all nations to set aside at least 10% of the world’s oceans as effective and well-managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2020.

“The establishment of Marine Protected Areas is a critical component of global efforts to reverse the degradation of our oceans,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner. “UNEP applauds Lewis Pugh’s latest expedition, which will spotlight the importance of MPAs and increase global attention to the plight of the world’s oceans.”

“Land-based pollution, poorly managed coastal development, overfishing and climate change are all major threats which can be reduced if governments work together and set ambitious targets. Over the last 40 years, the UNEP Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans have actively supported member states in such efforts, including in the creation and management of Marine Protected Areas,” he added.

Approximately 13% of the world’s land lies in protected areas, but less than 3% of the oceans are protected, and much of that receives little protection in practice.

Lewis Pugh, a maritime lawyer, said: “This is 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 wildlife.

“The North, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas have been drastically overfished. Many coral reefs are in decline – through habitat destruction in the Red and severe bleaching in the Arabian Sea. The Black Sea is dreadfully polluted. And the rich wetlands of the Adriatic no longer provide a safe haven for thousands of migrating birds.

“That’s why we are calling on nations to proclaim Marine Protected Areas to safeguard all our seas as a matter of extreme urgency in the same way as terrestrial national parks gave us the Serengeti, the Kruger, and Yellowstone, and ensure that future generations can marvel at elephants and lions, bison and wolves.

“It’s hard to imagine a world without those wild spaces. It would be a very baron world indeed. But that’s exactly what our seas and oceans will look like if we don’t act now.”

“MPAs are great for fish, great for tourism and least we forget it, great for us humans. We rely on the health of our oceans to survive. MPAs improve the health of our oceans by protecting and restoring marine habitats, they protect species and help rebuild fish stocks and they increase resilience to environmental changes.

“I want to encourage our global leaders including David Cameron on my return, to recognise just how vital protecting our seas is.”

Lewis is a leading figure in efforts to protect the world’s oceans. Over a period of 27 years, he has pioneered swims in the most hostile waters on earth. In 2007 his swim across an open patch of sea at the North Pole to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice was global news, as was his 2010 swim across a newly formed glacial lake on Mount Everest which drew significant attention to the impact of climate change in the Himalayas.

A number of high profile dignitaries are supporting Lewis’s campaign. Desmond Tutu joined Lewis at his final training session to wish him well and said: “When we damage the environment and don’t protect our resources we create the conditions necessary for conflict. However when we protect the environment we bring peace. I salute Lewis in his efforts.”

Prince Albert II of Monaco will welcome Lewis as he completes his first swim in the Mediterranean Sea in Monaco.

Lewis said: “I’m very grateful that Prince Albert II will be on the beach as I finish my Mediterranean leg. Prince Albert is also passionate about protecting the world’s oceans infact he’s set aside 100% of his national waters as an MPA.  What he’s achieved is inspiring.”

Seven Swims in the Seven Seas for 1 Reason is being supported by The Living Oceans Foundation, Seacom and The Oak Foundation.

Follow Lewis’s progress via his website, www.lewispugh.com Twitter @LewisPugh #7Seas and Facebook – Lewis Pugh.

For further information, interviews and pictures throughout Lewis’ journey please contact Louise Plank or Victoria Hartley-Wilson at Plank PR, 020 8995 3936.


Mediterranean Sea, 7-9th August, Monte Carlo, Monaco

It’s the ancient sea of Homer’s Odyssey, it connects Europe, Africa and Asia, and although it holds less than 1% of the world’s ocean waters, it is home to over 6% of the world’s marine species (and you won’t find a quarter of those species anywhere else on earth). But along with the closed nature of this sea, and the intensity and range of human impacts on it, the Mediterranean has suffered severe declines in many species and habitats. Over-fishing is a major threat, and requires tighter regulation. MPAs are desperately needed to conserve species and habitats. Monaco is the first and only nation in the world to have designated all of her seas as MPAs. Lewis will begin his 7 Seas campaign with a swim off Monte Carlo to honour those efforts, and hopes that other nations will be inspired by Monaco’s efforts to improve their MPA networks.

Adriatic Sea, 10-13th August, Zadar, Croatia (Kornati Islands)  

It’s a long flight from Africa to Northern Europe, and the Adriatic Sea provides a vital respite for migratory birds. Many bird species use the Adriatic’s coast and wetlands to rest and recuperate before journeying on. Sadly, hunters also anticipate the rest period; they lie in wait for the exhausted birds and pick them off in their thousands. The critically endangered slender-billed curlew has been reduced to as few as 50 individuals in the world. Lewis is dedicating his Croatian swim off Zadar to highlighting the near extinction of this unassuming species, and the tragic loss of many others. Along with a call for more MPAs, this swim will highlight the need for a ban on bird hunting in and around MPAs with vulnerable bird populations.

Aegean Sea, 14-16th August, Athens, Greece

The Mediterranean Monk Seal was once plentiful in the Aegean Sea, but after years of being deliberately shot and accidentally killed in fishing gear, numbers in Greece have plummeted to around 200 animals – around half the remaining world population. This makes it one of the most endangered mammals in the world. The Monk Seal’s timid nature means that even slight disturbances can displace it from its last few breeding sites. Lewis’s swim off Athens, Greece, draws attention to the plight of an animal on the brink of extinction, and calls for better co-operation and strictly protected MPAs, especially in Gyaros, to enable recovery of this gentle species.

Black Sea, 17-19th August, Istanbul, Turkey

Almost entirely enclosed by land, the Black Sea is especially vulnerable to pollution from its shores, rivers and visiting ships. The dramatic explosion of comb jelly populations here visibly demonstrates the devastating impacts of ballast water pollution on an ecosystem, which has no natural defence against this invasive species. Better regulation of pollution is helping the Black Sea recover from the ecological collapse it suffered in the 1990s, but it remains poorly protected through MPAs. Lewis’s swim here highlights the need for greater protection, especially in the north, east and south of the Black Sea.

Red Sea, 20-22nd August, Aqaba, Jordan (Aqaba Marine Park to Tala Bay)

The Red Sea is adorned with luscious coral reefs, sea-grass meadows and mangrove forests, and characterised by a dazzling array of fish, dolphins, turtles, corals and the enigmatic dugong. Mangroves are of particular importance to both people and wildlife, and are the focus of Lewis’s Red Sea swim. With one foot on land, and one in the warm, shallow waters of the sea, mangroves stabilise coastal areas, support coral reef health, provide nursery grounds for young fish and other wildlife, timber for people, and food for domestic livestock. Through his swim, Lewis calls for greater protection and restoration of mangroves in MPAs, particularly in Djibouti and Eritrea, where they are critically important.

Arabian Sea, 23-26th August, Rass Al Hadd, Oman

Spanning from East Africa to West India, this sea is home to an impressive range of beautiful, yet vulnerable, species and habitats. The diverse and productive coral reefs of this sea have suffered severe coral bleaching – up to 80% in some areas – from global warming. This is set to intensify as sea temperatures rise with climate change. It’s a bleak outlook for coral reef habitats, and urgent action is needed to reduce climate change at a global level, combined with protection at the local level. Well-managed MPAs can reduce stressors and may improve the ability of corals to withstand and recover from the temperature spikes that cause coral bleaching episodes. Lewis’s swim in the Arabian Sea raises the call to action to protect and restore coral reefs, so that this delicate habitat might survive.

North Sea, 27-29th August, London, UK (South End to Parliament)

The so-called common skate is really rather special, not just because of its enormous size, but because the North Sea is now nearly barren of this ‘manta ray of the north’. The North Sea was once teaming with fish and other wildlife, now the skate, along with other large fish are critically endangered, and rarely seen in the North Sea. Decades of trawling have destroyed mile after mile of delicate seabed habitats, and while the UK has designated a number of MPAs, there are none in the North Sea to protect these skates. Lewis’s final swim of the expedition will start in the North Sea and progress up the Thames to London, where he’ll call on the UK Government to step up more actively and save this impressive species from extinction in the UK. The call will urge for a ban on mobile fishing gears in enough MPAs to restore habitats, and the remnant populations of these and other threatened species, to safe and sustainable levels.