Lewis Pugh attempts five ice swims in Antarctic seas

Endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh is taking his latest challenge to Antarctic waters, in support of a Ross Sea marine sanctuary.

ugh will undertake five 1km swims in the freezing seas, wearing nothing but a swim suit. He wants to break the world record for most southerly swim in three of the five sub-zero dips. 

A long-time ocean advocate, Pugh wants to raise awareness of a joint New Zealand-US bid to establish the world's largest marine reserve in the pristine waters.

It has twice failed before the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the international organisation that regulates Antarctica's waters.

Last year the United Nations patron of the oceans swam in each of the classical Seven Seas - the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, Black Sea, Red Sea, Arabian Sea and the North Sea - ending with a 100km swim up the Thames to Parliament to champion a UN goal of putting 10 per cent of the world's seas under protection. 

He also made the first swim across the North Pole in 2007, where the temperature was -1.7°C. It took four months before he regained full feeling in his hands.

"That was after just one swim," Lewis said. "This time I will be doing five in quick succession."

He tweeted a map of the swims.

He'll also be facing other dangers - Antarctic waters are patrolled by killer whales and ferocious leopard seas.

The 45-year-old's bid will start off Campbell Island on February 13. He says each swim will take about 20 minutes, in temperatures ranging from 0 to -1.7°C. He'll finish on March 7 at Peter I Island, a volcanic island in the Bellingshausen Sea. 

His plunge into the Bay of Whales on February 28 will be the most southern swim possible - there is no open sea further south in the world. The bay was named by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton because it was home to a large number of killer whales.

"As well as being outstandingly beautiful, the Ross Sea is home to some extraordinary animals, such as the Antarctic Toothfish, whose heart beats only 10 times per minute to conserve energy, the Colossal Squid, which weighs up to 500kg, and the Emperor Penguin," English-born Pugh said.

Also a maritime lawyer, he says over-fishing and climate seas will destroy the unique eco-system 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," he explained.

Russia is currently CCAMLR chair and has previously been a barrier in tense negotiations. Pugh is calling on officials in Moscow to "lead the world in conserving the Ross Sea."

"The Russians have a impressive history in Antarctic exploration and scientific research, which means they are perfectly placed to shape the future of this marine ecosystem," he added.

The proposal for the 1.34 million km2 marine protection area will come before the annual CCAMLR meeting later this year.

The Route

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. This swim will break the world record for the most southerly long distance swim ever undertaken. Cape Adare was the site of the first wintering by explorers on the Antarctic Continent. It's also home to the largest colony of Adelie penguins in the world. 

Swim 3 - Cape Evans, 22 Feb

Cape Evans 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. Scott died on the journey back with four colleagues. 

Swim 4 - Bay of Whales, 28 Feb 

This is the most southern swim possible at 78.5º South. 

Swim 5 - Peter I Island, 7 Mar

Home to three seal species (Crab-eater, Southern-elephant, and the formidable Leopard Seal), a breeding ground for southern fulmars, and is visited by Adelie and Chinstrap penguins.

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