“My hope is that these symbolic swims in this Polar Garden of Eden will bring the beauty and wonder of Antarctica into the hearts and homes of people around the world, so they will urge their governments to protect this unique ecosystem.”


Pioneer Swimmer Lewis Pugh is taking to the ice again, to do five swims further south than any human has swum before.

During the month of February 2015, the United Nations Patron of the Oceans will undertake five record-breaking swims in freezing Antarctic waters to help save the Ross Sea from irreversible damage.

The five swims will form the most challenging and dangerous swimming effort ever undertaken by man. With no insulation other than a Speedo swimming costume, Lewis will break the world record for the most southerly swim in three of his five swims. As well as the obvious dangers of subjecting his body to the stresses of sub-zero water, Lewis will be swimming in seas patrolled by killer whales and leopard seals.

Why these five swims, and why now?

For one urgent reason: To gain global support for the Ross Sea to become an MPA (Marine Protected Area) that would limit human interference.

The Ross Sea is one of the most pristine marine ecosystems on the planet, and home to many species found nowhere else on earth. The historical records trapped in its ice-shelf tell the story of the evolution of our planet. As a result, the area is of huge significance to marine biologists and conservation groups who are determined to protect and learn from this unique stretch of ocean. But like all of our seas, it faces the threats of climate change and overfishing.

Read more about the Ross Sea here

The proposed Ross Sea MPA is 1.34 million km2 – bigger than the UK, Germany and France put together – and will be the biggest protected area in the world, on land or in the sea.

The organisation responsible for creating MPAs in the region is the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). But for the past four years, their motion to establish an MPA in the Ross Sea has been held up by lack of consensus.

CCAMLR is currently chaired by Russia. Which is why Lewis will be encouraging Russia to lead the world in conserving the Ross Sea.

“Over the past 30 years I’ve seen the devastating impacts of overfishing and climate change on our oceans,” Lewis says. “If we allow the Ross Sea to go the same way, its unique riches may be lost forever. My hope is that these symbolic swims will bring the beauty and wonder of Antarctica into the hearts and homes of people around the world so they will urge their governments to protect this unique ecosystem, which is truly a polar Garden of Eden.”


Lewis is a leading figure in efforts to protect the world’s oceans.
He is the only person to have completed a long distance swim in every ocean of the world. Over a period of 27 years, he has pioneered swims in the most hostile waters on earth including the Antarctic, the North Pole and the Himalayas, and developed an understanding of the beauty and fragility of life and its many eco-systems.

Last year Lewis became the first man to swim all the ancient Seven Seas, from the Mediterranean to the Arabian, to highlight the urgent need for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This month he's heading back to the Antarctic, to undertake five swims in sub-zero temperatures at strategic points to support the call for the world's biggest, and arguably most critical, Marine Protected Area.
In 2013, the United Nations appointed him Patron of the Oceans.

Lewis is an accomplished public speaker. In 2014, he addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos and his leadership address at the BIF Conference was voted one of the “7 Most Inspiring Speeches on the Web”.

In 2010 the World Economic Forum named him a Young Global Leader and in 2013 he was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.




NOTE: Each swim will be 1km with water temperatures expected to be between 0°C and minus 1.7°C. Each swim is expected to take about 20 minutes to complete.

Swim 1 - Campbell Island | 13 Feb A long distance swim along Perseverance Harbour, a fjord in Campbell Island. The island, situated at 52º South, is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a large colony of Southern Royal Albatrosses and three penguins species – Eastern Rockhoppers, Erect-Crested and Yellow-Eyed Penguins.

Swim 2 - Cape Adare | 19 Feb The first long distance swim around Cape Adare at 71º South. If successful, this swim will break the world record for the most southerly long distance swim ever undertaken. Cape Adare is the site of the first wintering by explorers on the Antarctic Continent. It's also home to the largest colony of Adélie penguins in the world. More than 250,000 pairs breed there.

Swim 3 - Cape Evans | 22 Feb Cape Evans is situated at 77.6º South and is where Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the British explorer, built a hut before racing the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen to the South Pole in 1911. Tragically, Scott died on the journey back with 4 colleagues. Lewis will have the privilege of preparing to swim around Cape Evans, in this historic building, which is still much the same as it was left over 100 years ago.

Swim 4 - Bay of Whales | 28 Feb This is the most southern swim possible (there is no open sea further south in the world) at the Bay of Whales at 78.5º South. This bay was named by explorer Sir Ernst Shackleton due to the large number of killer whales seen in the area.

Swim 5 - Peter I Island | 7 Mar Lewis' final swim will be at Peter I Island, which is in the Bellingshausen Sea at 69º South. This volcanic island is surrounded by pack ice for most of the year and is home to three seal species (Crab-eater, Southern-elephant, and the formidable Leopard Seal), is a breeding ground for southern fulmars, and is visited by Adélie and Chinstrap penguins.



One of the most pristine marine ecosystems on the planet, and home to many species found nowhere else on earth.


The Ross Sea is the most southerly open seawater in the world, and one of the most pristine marine ecosystems on the planet. There are species here found nowhere else on earth, and there are secrets hidden in its ancient ice-shelf – historical records that tell the story of the evolution of our planet. For these reasons and more, the area is of great significance to marine biologists and conservation groups, who are determined to protect and learn from this unique stretch of ocean.


This remote marine wilderness lies off the coast of Antarctica, 3,500km below the heel of New Zealand. It stretches from the permanent ice-shelf and seasonal ice floes of the coast, through shallow coastal seas and seamounts, to a steeply sloping seabed that plunges three kilometres into the ocean depths. Within this variety of marine landscapes, the Ross Sea provides a rich diversity of habitats that are home to an amazing range of incredible animals.


The Ross Sea ecosystems are the most intact on Earth. For this reason, the Ross Sea shelf seas may be our last chance to study and understand these marine ecosystems in their near-natural state. This is incredibly important for our understanding of other marine wildlife and how to protect and restore marine ecosystems to healthy functioning systems, which support life as fully as possible.

The Ross Sea is the most productive region of the Southern Ocean. It supports some of the biggest, as well as some of the tiniest, creatures on earth, from top predators to exceptionally productive plankton communities. Tiny though they are, plankton locks up carbon into the oceans, transporting it to the deep ocean as it sinks. This plays an important role in regulating the climate and buffering human induced climate change. An estimated 27% of the carbon sink in the Southern Ocean is specific to the Ross Sea.


The Ross Sea is a challenging place. The winter sun sets for months at a time, ice shrouds the coasts, and winds and ocean currents whip up the ocean into howling gales. The wildlife of the Ross Sea has co-existed and adapted over millennia to this hostile environment. This intricate and delicate balance of tenacious animals that tough it out in the Southern Ocean is a marvel worthy of great respect.

The abundant wildlife of the Ross Sea includes cold water corals that move across the sea bed in search of food, ancient deep water fish whose hearts beat only ten times a minute, and the largest invertebrate known to humans, the colossus squid, which skulks two thousand meters beneath the waves. (You'll find some more of our favourite Ross Sea Creatures here.)
There are many charismatic penguins in the Ross Sea, including the world's largest colony of Adélie penguins, and over a quarter of the world population of emperor penguins. There is an abundance of sea birds, including 30% of the world population of Antarctic petrels. 
 Nearly half of the South Pacific Weddell seal population lives here, as well as 50% of Ross Sea killer whales (which may be a distinct species
 of orca).

They all chose to make the Ross Sea their home for good reason: the vast blooms of plankton which teem in these freezing waters offer the greatest burst of productivity in the Southern Ocean! These tiny yet beautiful creatures not only form the basis of entire food chains, but also help fix carbon dioxide, which means they play an important role in combatting Global Warming.


The human history of the Ross Sea is one of adventure and impressive endeavour. Cape Adare, in the north of the Ross Sea, is where the first wintering took place by explorers on the Antarctic Continent. But sadly, humans also brought a tragic end for thousands of blue whales in the northern Ross Sea. In just a few years of whaling in the early 1900s, the population of the majestic Blue Whale was eradicated. They never recovered; virtually no blue whales are seen in the Ross Sea now.

Today another Ross Sea creature, the slow-growing Antarctic toothfish, is in danger from overfishing. Its close cousin, the Patagonian toothfish, has all but disappeared in some areas, after only a few years of fishing and illegal fishing. Now fishermen are targeting the Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea. Early signs suggest that the population size is already greatly reduced, after only a few years of fishing. This has a ripple effect through the ecosystem; as the numbers of toothfish are reduced, so are the orcas, its primary predator.


The most effective way known to conserve ocean wildlife is to protect it in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Although the Antarctic continent and its surrounding seas are set aside for peace and science through the Antarctic Treaty System, the protection on land is much, much better than that at sea, and significant damage still occurs to marine wildlife.

Several nations and many conservation charities have been pressing for a Marine Protected Area in the Ross Sea for some years, and agreement is very, very close. This year, it is vital that we make history in the Antarctic once again, and declare the Ross Sea as the world’s largest Marine Protected Area.

The proposed Ross Sea MPA is 1.34 million km2 – bigger than the United Kingdom, Germany and France put together – which would make it the biggest protected area in the world, on land or in the sea. It's sobering to think that that area is only 2% of the Southern Ocean!


The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was established by international convention in 1982 with the objective of conserving Antarctic marine life.

There are 25 members of CCAMLR – 24 countries plus the EU. For the past four years, an overwhelming majority of them have supported the call for declaring an MPA in the Ross Sea. But since all CCAMLR decisions need to be unanimous, just one dissenting vote is all it takes to hold up this landmark declaration. Each time the motion has come up, there has been a dissenting voice that blocked it. We want this year to be different.

CCAMLR is currently chaired by Russia. With the Five Swims expedition, Lewis will be encouraging Russia to lead the world in conserving the Ross Sea.

Follow our campaign and add your voice to the call to declare The Ross Sea a Marine Protected Area.


There are many amazing creatures in the Ross Sea, from sea birds, whales and seals, to plankton, squid, corals and fish. Many of them occur nowhere else on earth. We love them all, but these are some of our favourites.


There are eight species of soft cold-water corals in the Antarctic, and one of them can do something no other coral in the world can do: move across the sea bed in search of food. As its name suggests, Bending coral feeds by bending itself over, brushing up the sea floor sediments, then straightening itself up and moving over to a new location.


With a mantle length of up to four metres, and a weight of around 500 kilograms, it would be hard to miss the world's largest invertebrate, if it weren't for the fact that they are exceptionally elusive, and live up to two kilometres under the sea surface. It also has the largest know animal eye – at 27cm, larger than your average dinner plate.

3. Antarctic toothfish

This toothfish is a top predator in these waters, reaching 1.6 metres in length and living for up to 30 years. Its slow growth rate is one of the reasons this prized eating fish in danger of being fished out of the Southern Ocean. It's also a favourite food of seals, orcas, and the colossal squid. None of which seem to be put off by the fact that it keeps its body fluids from freezing in icy waters by producing antifreeze proteins!

4. Silverfish

Like the toothfish, the Antarctic silverfish is slow growing and produces a natural anti-freeze glycopeptides. They keep themselves buoyant through their high fat content, which allows them to lay their eggs just under the sea ice, so they won't be eaten by bottom dwelling species.

5. Wedell seal

More than half of the south pacific population of Weddell seals live in the Ross Sea. If a Wedell were to smile at you, you'd see forward-pointing incisors that allow them to bite and carve holes in the ice. They are talented deep seas divers too, sinking to depths of 600m, where they can stay for more than an hour. They catch larger prey like tooth fish, possibly by blasting them with sound; their sonic bursts are thought to stun prey long enough for them to bring them to the surface.

6. Leopard seal

Don't be fooled by its soft eyes and inquisitive nature - the Leopard seal is a top predator in the Southern Ocean, and can turn from playful to purposeful in seconds. A supreme athlete, this seal is fast and agile. It grows up to three metres long, with massive jaws that make short work of its chosen supper. The only thing a Leopard seal needs to fear is a pack of hungry orcas – they've been known to herd seals from their ice refuge, while they wait in the sea below.

7. Ross Sea killer whale

Killer whales are found in almost every ocean and sea on earth, and are known for their big brains and complex social behaviour, which includes cooperative hunting. But not all killer whales are alike; different groups frequent different waters, and some eat mammals while others – like the Ross Sea killer whale – specialise in fish. The Antarctic toothfish is this orca's particular favourite.

8. Antarctic Minke whale

This seasoned traveller is not only one of the furthest south-migrating baleen whales (along with the blue whale), but has also been found as far north as the Arctic. They are considered some of the cleverest cetaceans too – they have worked out a way to tease out krill from its refuge under the sea ice, where it hides from all its other predators. And if you are travelling through the ice floes of the far south and hear what sounds like a duck quack, it's probably a minke saying hello.

9. Lantern fish

It may carry a lantern, but its no Florence Nightingale of the sea. In fact, Lantern fish probably use their photophores (organs that bioluminesce, or 'light up', through a chemical reaction) not so much to see what's around them in the dark deeps where they live, but to communicate with other lantern fish and confuse their predators.

10. Adelie penguin

The smallest of the Southern Ocean penguins, Adélies live on the ice, which makes them particularly sensitive to changes in the ecosystem. In winter these clever little birds live on the outer portion of the pack ice, leaving and entering the water by means of breathing holes created by minke whales. Adélies are well known for “porpoising”, leaping out of the water at speeds of up to 4.4 metres per second.

11. Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross

If the Leopard seal takes his spots from a wild cat, this dusky albatross takes his colouring from a Siamese cat. Sooty albatrosses live entirely out at sea – except when it's time to breed, when they require a cosy island outcrop. These loyal birds form lasting partnerships, but that doesn't stop them showing off during mating season; their aerial courtship displays and formation flying are spectacular. Their biggest threat is from longline fishing, and through starvation from eating plastic marine debris.

12. Antarctic krill

You've heard the saying dynamite comes in small packages - krill are the dynamite of the Antarctic marine ecosystem, which simply couldn't function without them. Everything from tiny fish to gigantic whales relies on these tiny crustaceans as a primary food source (and those that don't eat them directly, eat the fish that do). These shrimp-like filter feeders, which range from 8mm to 14 cm long, feed off plankton and algae that gathers around sea ice, passing plant energy higher up the food chain. Their reliance on sea ice makes krill particularly sensitive to climate change.


To inspire people around the world to protect and preserve our oceans,
and all that live in them, for a peaceful and sustainable future.

  • MPA1
  • MPA2
  • MPA3


Imagine a world without the Kruger National Park. Without Yellowstone or the Serengeti.

The world would be a very different place. I doubt there would be bison left. I doubt we would have many elephant or rhinos.
 Our wilds would be stark and barren.

These terrestrial national parks were created about 100 years ago. But the legislators at the time forgot about the world’s oceans. We are now in a situation where our oceans desperately need protecting. They face serious threats. Pollution, climate change, habitat destruction and overfishing have pushed these marine ecosystems to their very limits.
Unless we do something now, we are going to pass important tipping points; some of which may already have been passed.

If we don’t do something big and ambitious, our children will not benefit from the beautiful biodiversity of the world’s oceans.

Lest we forget, we rely entirely on the oceans for our survival. The very air we breathe, the water we drink, the rain that feeds our crops, the fish that are the primary food source of protein for millions, the climate that envelopes all of us … they all depend on a healthy ocean.

Which is where Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) come in.

A Marine Protected Area is a geographically defined area that is regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives.

While land-based National Parks started to be designated in the 1800s, protection of the marine environment has lagged behind, leaving a legacy of under-protection in coastal areas, and even more so on the High Seas.

Approximately 13% of the world’s land lies in a protected area, but less than 3% of the ocean’s surface is protected, and nearly all of that in coastal areas.

Like the ‘National Parks’ on land, ‘Marine Protected Areas’ (MPAs) will take slightly different forms in different countries, and may have differing aims and management systems. These can range from stringent controls in ‘No Take Zones’, which prohibit removal of any wildlife, to ‘Multi-Use areas’, which may permit some extractive industries.

What’s going on in the world’s oceans?

The oceans are designed to be self-regulating: they are watery ecosystems that developed over millions of years to exist in perfect balance. The key threats to the oceans today are a direct result of human activities which pollute, denude and destroy ocean habitats and kill the wildlife they sustain.

Put a child on a boat in the ocean today, and it would be hard for her to imagine what it looked like 100 years ago. Sailors’ tales and old whaling log books tell of seas teaming with life, with a seemingly endless number of fish, whales, turtles and birds.
What we see today is a mere shadow of their former glory.

Population after population of marine species has crashed as humans have over exploited them. Many species, such as the mighty blue whale, the European eel, the common skate and the monk seal are down to a tiny fraction of their former numbers. In some areas, the seabed is a wasteland in comparison to the rich habitats that once existed. The devastating truth is that we don’t even know what we have lost.

But all is not lost.

Despite this momentous destruction of sea-life and habitats, there is still much in the sea to rejoice, enjoy and protect. And we must never underestimate nature’s extraordinary ability to regenerate, given the right circumstances and environment.

What remains is ever more precious as species after species teeter on the brink of extinction. We must act now to protect and restore our marine ecosystems, so that they once again team with abundant wildlife and are able to survive and withstand whatever challenges the future holds.

The IUCN is the world’s largest conservation organisation, and considers protected areas to be the most successful measures that can be implemented for the conservation of biodiversity. Join us in making sure this happens, in the Seven Seas, and beyond.


7 Reasons why MPAs are awesome

Marine Protected Areas are an important management tool to help fish, corals and other species to thrive, with noticeable increases in abundance, size and age of some species. This can bring a wide range of benefits for people, and the planet, locally and globally:

  • 1

    Where wildlife thrives: MPAs protect marine wildlife and important habitats, allowing them to be as healthy and natural as possible, with their own unique intrinsic value.

  • 2

    Building resistance and resilience: Healthy systems are better able to cope with disease outbreaks, global warming, pollution and storms and other impacts that are on the rise. we can’t always predict or prevent.

  • 3

    Natural wilderness: MPAs allow us to view, enjoy and research wildlife in its most natural state, and to protect species that may have important future uses, such as potential medical cures.

  • 4

    Financial benefits: The increase in wildlife seen in some MPAs can boost local economies, through sustainable tourism, fisheries and harvesting timber from mangroves.

  • 5

    Food security: Fish populations can increase within MPAs and beyond, supporting local fisheries, which are an important source of food for millions of people.

  • 6

    Saving our selves: MPAs can support our oceans and coasts in a range of often over-looked services they provide to us, such as storing carbon, and dampening storms and floods.

  • 7

    Re-seeding the oceans: As fish and their larvae thrive in MPAs, they may spill-out beyond the MPA boundaries and support marine ecosystems in the wider environment.

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