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Jordan Pyle

Fifty-year-old climate activist from Briton, England, Lewis Pugh, swam underneath the East Antarctic ice sheet to bring attention to how quickly glaciers are melting. He wanted to make a point that it should not be possible to do what he did. Pugh swam in nothing but his swimsuit, a swim cap, and goggles in water that measured zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). 

He was terrified to swim through the melting tunnels under the ice sheet. However, he believes it to be the most beautiful swim he has ever completed. The swim lasted just over ten minutes and was a result of thirty-three years of swimming and endurance training.

Pugh, known for swimming in Arctic water to raise awareness for climate change, became the first person to swim in a supraglacial lake. A supraglacial lake is a lake that has formed on top of a glacier because of melting ice.

He was motivated to swim under the ice sheet by a September 2019 study in the Scientific Reports journal. The journal found over 65,000 supraglacial lakes on East Antarctica’s ice sheet.

As part of his attempt to protect the environment in Antarctica, Pugh tried to persuade Russian government to sign a deal that would establish a marine protected area in East Antarctica that will protect against overfishing. The deal requires a specific group of nations to sign in order to establish the marine protected area. All of the nations—Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Uruguay—except China and Russia have signed the deal, but Pugh is hopeful that the Russian government will agree to sign. He is hopeful because he has previously negotiated with the Russian government to sign a similar deal implementing a marine protected area in the Ross Sea, another area of Antarctica. The Ross Sea became a marine protected area in 2016.

Pugh wants to take immediate action at the 2020 climate change negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland on November 9 to November 19. “I’m saying to world leaders please, come to Glasgow, come there with a lot of ambition. Step up, or step aside, because we simply don’t have any more time on our hands,” Pugh stated.

“I swam here today as we are in a climate emergency,” Pugh said. “We need immediate action from all nations to protect our planet.”