“The water is no longer at 3 degrees, but at 10”


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Of the 12 days that Lewis Pugh (1969, Plymouth, UK) has spent this year swimming in the icy waters of Greenland, there is an image that cannot be removed from the head. Thousands upon thousands of icebergs falling from the Ilulissat ice fjord, making their way to the ocean. “It was an ice highway”says Pugh, with all the blocks one after the other. The polar regions have been changing for decades and he has been an exceptional witness. Has swum where no one has ever done it before. With just a swimsuit, a hat and glasses, he has plunged into the waters of the North Pole or the Himalayas. But what he is seeing now, he says, is not a climate crisis. It is, directly, a “catastrophe.”

Although he trained as a lawyer in the UK, he always loved the sea and in the end the attraction was too strong. Starting in 1999, he began looking for places where a man had never swam before. He wanted challenges and that led him to the coldest waters on the planet, many still unexplored. In a sense, he says, he was lucky.

But over the years, he began to see the great environmental changes that were taking place. “When I first swam in the Arctic in 2003, the water was 3 degrees. When I returned 12 years later, the water was no longer 3 but 10 degrees. That’s how fast the water is heating up ”, he assures ABC.

Reality opened his eyes, and he reached a point in his life when he wondered what he was going to do: “Am I going to keep swimming or am I going to be the voice of the oceans?” Today the places he chooses to swim are not accidental. The glacier that feeds Ilulissat is the fastest moving in the world, at around 30 meters a day. But, in addition, everything indicates that it was the one that came off the iceberg that hit the Titanic. For Pugh it is a good metaphor for what is happening with climate change. “People said that the Titanic was unsinkable, but also many of the people were in their beds when it sank. We are sleepwalking towards catastrophe ».

Nevertheless, getting into the icy water is painful. “Very, very painful,” he insists. He was the first human to swim at the North Pole, at the limit where salty water turns to ice. He swam at -1.7 degrees. His fingers, arms, and even his breath ached. But now you know that the inside of your body is kept at the same temperature. During his last trip to Greenland, the scientists who accompanied him monitored his body temperature thanks to a capsule that Pugh had to swallow. So they found out that during the 10-minute stretch in which he was submerged, inside was kept warm. It was in the two-hour recovery periods that the records dropped.

But the purpose, says the also ambassador for the UN Oceans, is not to swim. “I do it to show what happens to the oceans in a very graphic way. Telling the story of a very remote part of the world, to which very few people have been, but which impacts us all. For this reason, and despite the fact that age does not forgive, he will continue swimming in extreme waters. “I will not stop.”

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