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Out With The Fish, In With The Plastic

Courtesy of Lewis Pugh, South Sandwich Islands, Antarctica.

UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh has exchanged his swimsuit for a suit after completing The Long Swim, his 49-day, 560 km stage swim along the English Channel from Land’s End in Cornwall to Dover in Kent.

Today, he met with the UK Foreign Secretary to urge the UK to fully protect the South Sandwich Islands off Antarctica. “It’s one of the most important wildlife hotspots on the planet.”

Below is his speech to the Conservative Party explaining why the UK must protect its waters:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for your warm welcome.

You’ll immediately hear from my accent that I spent some of my childhood growing up in Africa. One of the things I love about Africa, one of the many things, is that Africans love telling stories. That’s how we’ve communicated and connected since the beginning of time.

So, today I want to tell you three stories. Three short stories from three places I know well, and which will have a very big impact on every person in this hall.


The first place I want to take you to is the Island of Spitsbergen on the edge of the Arctic sea ice. It’s in the Norwegian Arctic.

I went there to undertake my first cold water swim. In 2005, the water temperature was 3°C (37.4°F). When I was there last year it was 10°C (50°F).

We don’t need to be scientists to know that when you have 10°C water up against ice, it will melt.


Scientists are predicting that, by 2030, the Arctic will be largely free of sea ice in the summer months.

So if you are a child starting school this year, you will be leaving in 12 years’ time into a very different world.

That’s the speed at which this change is taking place.

What’s happening to the north of us will impact every single person on this planet, every future generation, and all the world’s wildlife.


Let me now take you to the bottom of the world – to the South Sandwich Islands off Antarctica.* They are one of the most important wildlife hotspots on the entire planet.

Go down there and you will find a Polar Garden of Eden. You see thousands and thousands of penguins, and whales gorging themselves on krill, and enormous elephant seals, some as heavy as three tonnes, lumbering ashore to fight for a mate.

There’s a reason why Sir David Attenborough featured these islands so heavily on Blue Planet II. It’s because they are unique. And they are precious.


That’s why I swam the length of the English Channel. To bring this message home.

I swam from Land’s End all the way to Dover. It was the equivalent to 16 English Channel crossings back to back. It’s the toughest swim I’ve ever done.

I swam past beautiful Cornish beaches, to Plymouth (where I grew up as a young boy), across Lyme Bay, around the bottom of the Isle of Wight, past the Seven Sisters, around Dungeness, and then finally ended at the White Cliffs of Dover.

Two things struck me.

The first thing was how incredibly beautiful the coast here is in England.

But the second thing was how little wildlife I saw. I saw a lot of jellyfish. Their numbers are increasing because our waters are warming. And also because of overfishing. Their numbers are blooming. I was stung by jellyfish in the face. In the armpit. Even in my groin.

But all I saw were a few birds, I saw a few dolphins in Lyme Bay, one turtle off Portland and very little else. In 49 days!

And on every beach I saw plastic. It’s like we have hoovered up the fish and thrown in the plastic.


That’s why it is so exciting what the UK announced last week.

There was a lot happening in the media, so you may have missed it. But the UK announced that they are calling on all nations to come together to protect at least for 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

This is a huge breakthrough!

I have come here today to thank you very much.

You are the first major economy to recognise the importance of large protected areas to save our seas.

But there’s a rub.


To do this, you now need to get your own house in order.

It will be impossible for you to lead on ocean conservation, which I think you should, if you don’t do so.

At the moment only 7 square kilometres of UK waters are fully protected. Think about it – it is shocking. Just 7 square kilometres.

I mean, look at Goodwin Sands near Dover. You’ve earmarked this iconic landmark as one of your new conservation zones. It’s an amazing place with seals, birds and endangered eels.

And yet you also want to allow the Dover Harbour Board to dredge it for aggregate – to build their new development?

So you’re going to protect Goodwin Sands because of its abundance of wildlife. And then they’re going to dig it all up?

Protection must mean protection.


And the same goes for your overseas territories.

I spoke about the South Sandwich Islands. They are one of the most important wildlife hotspots on the entire planet. And yet less than 2% of South Sandwich Islands and the neighbouring South Georgia are fully protected.

I urge you to fully protect the South Sandwich Islands. With one stroke of the pen these islands, which are under British jurisdiction, can be fully protected forever. You could protect an area double the size of the United Kingdom.

Please. You have got to stop believing that you can “sustainably manage” and “harvest” these last wilderness areas.

These places are unique survivors from a time when our oceans were plentiful. We must protect them now before they are gone forever.

This should be Britain’s gift to the world.


I now want to bring these three stories back to this hall and relate them to you.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is clear to me that we have now entered the era of big consequences. Our environment is changing very quickly. It is right on the edge.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man I love very much, used to say that many of the conflicts we see around the world take place because of limited resources.

When we damage our environment we cause conditions ripe for conflict. But when we protect the environment, we foster peace.

People ask me how they, as one person, can make a difference to save the environment.

It’s very clear that not one person can fix it. Not one political party can fix it. And not one country can fix it.

The only way we are going to be able to solve this problem is if we begin to work together. If we all talk to each other. And if we build bridges between each other.”

* Pugh swam 1 km in 19 minutes in the 2°C waters off the coast of King Edward Cover near Grytviken, South Georgia in November 2017.

Copyright © 2008-2018 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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