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Endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh urges better protection of UK seas

The UN Patron of the Oceans is attempting to swim the length of the English Channel to call for ‘clean and healthy seas’.

The UK “must do better” on ocean protection, endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh has urged ahead of the start of his epic swim along the length of the English Channel.

Mr Pugh is about to begin the attempt to swim 560km (350 miles) along the English coastline from Land’s End in Cornwall to Dover, Kent, in just Speedos, a cap and goggles – the permitted kit of English Channel swimmers.

“The Long Swim” marks the start of a worldwide Action for Oceans campaign calling on governments to fully protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

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Mr Pugh wants to see protection of the seas around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, a UK Overseas Territory where he swam last year (Lewis Pugh Foundation/PA)

Mr Pugh is calling on the UK Government to urgently strengthen marine protected areas around the UK and its Overseas Territories.

“I’ve been swimming for 30 years in the world’s oceans. And over a 30-year period, which is a long time in human life – but in ecological terms such a small period of time, I’ve literally seen the oceans change,

“From the Arctic down to Antarctica, to coral reefs, everywhere I’ve seen oceans change. What I’m campaigning for now is clean and healthy seas,” he said at a press conference in London ahead of his swim.

The campaigner and UN Patron of the Oceans said he saw more and more plastic pollution in the oceans, rising temperatures in Arctic seas, and coral reefs turned from the “set of Nemo” to “rubble” by warmer water conditions.

“Unless we take action right now, the future for our oceans is not a bright one,” he warned.

Mr Pugh has previously undertaken swims in the Arctic and Antarctic to raise awareness of ocean conservation and help secure protection of the seas.

These were short sprints in icy water “on the edge of death”, with the dangers of predators such as leopard seals.

“This swim on the other hand is the longest I have ever attempted and it requires a completely different mindset”, he said.

He said he was worried about the all the stages of the “monumental” swim.

I know I will get to Dover, I know I will see the White Cliffs of Dover, but the paradox is I just don't know how Lewis Pugh on swimming the length of the English Channel

The most dangerous parts would be going round headlands with their treacherous conditions, while jellyfish blooms were also likely to be an issue.

“I know I will get to Dover, I know I will see the White Cliffs of Dover, but the paradox is I just don’t know how.

“You can get your body right but it’s going to be the heart that gets me to Dover, it’s going to be an enormous physical journey but it’s going to be an enormous mental journey.”

But he said: “We are going to Dover because we’ve got a reason to get to Dover.

“It’s shocking that a country which portrays itself as an ocean leader has only fully protected just seven square kilometres out of 750,000 square kilometres.

“It’s also deeply disturbing that the single most important part of British soil, which is South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the single most important part from a biodiversity point of view, less than 2% of it is fully protected.

“We can do better and we must do better.”

Professor Callum Roberts, from the University of York, said while the UK had been “doing what looks like a good job” establishing protected areas in British waters, very little met the “gold standard” of full protection from fishing.

Just 1% of the seas were protected from damaging trawling and dredging, and protected areas did not have management plans or sufficient resources yet, he said, but a policy shift could deliver a conservation network to be proud of.

Mr Pugh is also teaming up with conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage who are organising beach cleans along the route of the swim.

The charity’s chief executive Hugo Tagholm said the current focus was on plastic pollution, with beach cleans and plastic-free communities to tackle avoidable plastics.

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