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UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh announces world’s first swim across the Red Sea

Endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh today releases details of his latest expedition, the world’s first swim across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. The swim will highlight the vulnerability of coral reefs due to the accelerating Climate Crisis. 

In October, Lewis will swim from Saudi Arabia to Hurghada in Egypt. Along the way he will pass Sharm el-Sheikh, where world leaders will be gathering for COP27 in November.

The 160 km swim is expected to take 2 weeks to complete. Lewis will swim approximately 10 km each day.

He will not only be swimming over some of the most precious coral in the world, he will also be swimming across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes leading to the Suez Canal.

Pugh will be urging all nations to drastically cut their emissions, to tackle the climate crisis and protect the world’s oceans. He will also call for 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030.

Coral in Crisis

Coral reefs support 25% of all ocean life and are the most biologically diverse ecosystem on Earth. 

“If we lose our coral reefs, we will not just drive many thousands of species into extinction, we will lose an entire ecosystem, on which we depend. This would be unprecedented in human history. Coral reefs are the nurseries of our oceans, and home to some of the most incredible life on earth. I refuse to accept that we could lose them in my lifetime,” says Pugh.

Every fraction of a degree matters

Pugh is known for swimming in some of the coldest waters on the planet. Now he will be swimming in some of the world’s warmest. 

“I’ve been swimming in the world’s oceans for 35 years, and during that time I’ve seen them change dramatically,” Pugh says. “The biggest changes I’ve seen are in the Polar Regions, and in coral reefs. Both are affected by rising temperatures: the poles are melting, and the coral is dying,” says Pugh. “Ice and coral are the Ground Zeros of the Climate Crisis. These changes are happening before our very eyes; as evidence of global warming, they are indisputable.” 

Scientists warn that if we heat our planet by more than 1.5° C, we will lose 70% of the world’s coral reefs. If we heat it by 2°C, 99% of coral reefs will die. We are currently on track for at least 2.2°C increase.

UN Secretary General António Guterres calls the Climate Crisis “a code red for humanity”.

“Coral reefs are the barometers that illustrate clearly what happens when we heat our planet,” says Pugh. “Every fraction of a degree now matters.”

The Last Reef?

If ever an area needed to be properly protected, this is it. Half the world’s coral reefs are believed to have died since the 1950s due to warming sea temperatures, combined with overfishing, pollution and reef disturbance. Red Sea coral is different. Researchers have found that the coral in the Red Sea is more resilient to warming and acidification than coral in other places, such as the Great Barrier Reef, where bleaching events are increasingly common. 

If temperatures continue to rise as predicted, the coral of the Red Sea could be the last surviving coral on earth, so it is imperative that we protect it from other threats. 

Lewis Pugh Foundation and HEPCA

On the Red Sea Swim the Lewis Pugh Foundation is partnering with HEPCA – the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association.  HEPCA is a network of scientists, professional divers, industry experts and community members, all passionate and pro-active about protecting the resources of the Red Sea. 

HEPCA are calling for the Great Fringing Reef of the Egyptian Red Sea to be declared a multiple-use protected area. There is clear scientific evidence that the Great Fringing Reef, which is characterized by high resilience and tolerance to climate change, could be the last refuge for coral reefs worldwide. One of HEPCA’s projects is to reduce the pressure on the coral reefs around Hurghada, where the number of dives at some sites has reached more than 200,000 annually (the recommended carrying capacity is 5,000 – 22,000 dives in a single dive spot).  

Marine Protected Areas and COP27

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) make the oceans more resilient to climate change. At the UN Climate Conference (COP27) in Sharm el Sheikh this November, Lewis will also call for 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030, stressing to world leaders the role healthy oceans play in mitigating against the Climate Crisis. 

He will ask them to move beyond long-term commitments toward immediate urgent action.

Following completion of the swim, Lewis will travel to Cairo and London for media interviews, before attending COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in November. 

LPF Partners

  • The United Nations Environment Programme coordinates responses to environmental issues within the United Nations system. Its programmes focus on climate, nature, pollution, and sustainable development. Lewis Pugh became UNEP Patron of the Oceans in 2014.
  • Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) is focussed on protecting the resources of the Red Sea.
  • Legal and General Investment Management (LGIM) regularly voted one of the world’s most sustainable investment managers.  “The danger of a climate catastrophe is real. We are proud to support Lewis’s efforts to raise awareness and push for positive change. By working collaboratively with others in our industry, with companies and policymakers, we will see the rapid action needed to deliver the transition. Inaction is not an option.” – Michelle Scrimgeour, CEO, LGIM

The Lewis Pugh Foundation wishes to thank the Egyptian government and Egyptian local authorities for their support and permissions during the Red Sea Swim. 

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