Cape Town - If there is one thing endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh knows well, it’s ice - since he has been swimming in it for more than 15 years.
But what he is witnessing on his latest extreme campaign to draw attention to the effects of global warming on our oceans is more than alarming - Huge jumps in water temperature, fading and altogether-gone glaciers as well as destructive effects of pollution on the wildlife of the North Pole.
“I am deeply shocked by what I am witnessing. I’ve been swimming amongst ice for 15 years. It’s a substance I know well. I am not a climate scientist, but what I am seeing looks like runaway climate change in the Arctic.”
The #ArcticDecade campaign has launched with a voyage between three of the Arctic nations – Norway, Canada and Russia.
SEE: #FutureIsClean: SA's plans to reduce global warming
Describing the run-up to his first swim in the #ArcticDecade campaign, Pugh describes some of the things that shocked him the most in back since his first swim in 2005.
He says, “Ten years ago, I stood on the edge of the sea ice at the North Pole staring into the ink-black Arctic Ocean.
I was attempting to become the first person to complete a long distance swim in minus 1.7°C (29°F) waters. I had no idea whether I would make it to the end of the kilometre, and I was terrified.
I love every aspect of my work fighting to protect these precious polar regions. Except the minutes before the swims!
(Photo: Kelvin Trautman)
“Fear is the first thing I remember about the swim. The second is the feeling of looking across the ice and seeing patches of open water everywhere. Water, where there should have been sea ice. The fact that there was water at the North Pole in the first place was alarming, and I wanted the world to know about it.
‘Back to the beginning’
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“Now I’ve returned to the Arctic, once again with a sense of trepidation. I know I’ve changed in the intervening years, but the Arctic has changed even more.
“Just days into our expedition, two things have shocked me. The first happened during my training swim in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Last time I swam here, in 2005, the sea temperature was 3°C. This time it was 10°C.
“This just 1,300km from the North Pole!”
Pugh and his team are currently heading north and on Wednesday 26 July they stopped at Monaco Glacier.
“I have vivid memories of swimming there, in front of an enormous glacier. It was a stunning sight. But when we arrived in Liefdefjord, I almost didn’t recognise it. As a landmark it was thousands of years old, and now it’s rapidly receding up 2 valleys.”
Pugh says while many describe him as mad for swimming in these cold waters, he feels the world as a whole is "mad for not changing our global attitude" towards these issues which has seen temperatures in the Arctic double in the past two decades.
‘Widespread shrinking of glaciers, sea-ice and snow-covered areas’
“Our captain on this voyage is Raymond Martinsen, who, coincidentally, captained the ship that brought me here in 2005. To hear him name the glaciers that have disappeared in his 30 years of sailing is truly terrifying.
“This not only affects the creatures, great and small, that live here in the Arctic. It goes beyond the narwhals and the bearded seals, the Svalbard reindeer and the Arctic Fox, the puffins and the polar bears, whose natural habitats are being drastically altered. Because what happens here determines all our futures.”
Going to extremes to find solutions
Pugh will be completing swims in all three Arctic nations – Norway, Canada and Russia with the aim to raise awareness so that “governments, businesses and individuals will urgently reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”.
“I will also be calling on world leaders to not only implement the Paris Climate Agreement, but to go way beyond it.”
Pugh stresses the campaign is about finding and implementing urgent solutions.
“My hope is that when we look back on this Arctic Decade in years to come, we will celebrate it as a time in which we brought our beautiful planet, and this amazing region, back from the brink.”
Follow Lewis Pugh's #ArcticDecade journey on Facebook and Twitter.
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