Lewis Pugh, ocean advocate and endurance swimmer, set out on Thursday to become the first person to undertake a long-distance swim in each of the classical Seven Seas, in a bid to highlight the need for protected areas in oceans around the world.
Starting in Monte Carlo on Thursday, Pugh began his quest to swim in each of the seven seas: the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, Black, Red, Arabian and North. The seas are among the most polluted and over-fished in the world.
His quest will end with a 100-kilometre swim up the Thames in London between 27 and 29 August, after which he will deliver a petition to British Prime Minister David Cameron to urge him to support marine protected areas.
Pugh's "Seven Swims in Seven Seas for 1 Reason" campaign is in support of the United Nations' call for at least 10% of the world's oceans - both around countries and on the high seas - to be declared marine protected areas by 2020 to safeguard fish and other wildlife.
Pugh, a British citizen, spent his childhood in South Africa, and it was here that he began his love affair with ocean swimming. When Pugh was just 17 years old, he completed the dangerous swim from Robben Island, the famous prison of South Africa's apartheid past, to Cape Town.
Today, he is the only person to have completed long-distance swims in all five oceans, including the sub-zero waters of the Arctic and Antarctic - wearing nothing but a speedo.
Pugh writes on his blog that much his training has been in Cape Town, with world champion kayaker Dawid Mocke and "83-year old legendary swimming coach Brian Button at the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town".
"I also trained with Steph du Toit, the conditioning coach of Western Province Rugby. The training has been fast and aggressive."
'We bring peace'
Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined Pugh, a WWF ambassador, at a final training session in Cape Town last week to wish him well.
"When we damage the environment and don't protect our resources we create the conditions necessary for conflict," Tutu said. "However, when we protect the environment we bring peace. I salute Lewis in his efforts."
Pugh is the United Nation's Environment Programme's Patron of the Oceans. "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," Pugh said in a statement on Wednesday.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are "great for fish, great for tourism and least we forget it, great for us humans," he said. "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."
Pugh's latest expedition has support from the United Nations. Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said: "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."
About 13% of the world's land lies in protected areas, but less than 3% of the oceans are protected.
Follow Pugh's progress via www.lewispugh.com, www.facebook.com/LewisPughOceans or @LewisPugh.