Lewis Pugh, who had previously done the same thing in the coldest waters of the world wearing only his swim trunks, took on the challenge to do the opposite.
Pugh fought against the Red Sea’s warmest ocean to become the first person to cross it. It took him 16 days to do so.
Pugh was feeling the heat on his back, and the water temperature was sometimes above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), and he found himself struggling with exhaustion.
He said that it was a challenging task and that one must feel weak and depleted of energy to accomplish the challenge.
Pugh is an endurance swimmer from the United Kingdom who has been trained to face extreme conditions in remote oceans.
The marathon swims from Tiran Island, Saudi Arabia, to Hurghada, Egypt presented many challenges. It involved weaving through shipping traffic in the Gulf of Suez (the stretch of water that connects the Suez Canal and the Red Sea).
As if the constant stream of oil tankers and freight containers were not enough trouble, Pugh was also buffeted with big, rolling waves while he battled against the choppy waters for most of the swim.
He covered approximately 76 miles (123 km) between October 11 and 26, swimming between 3.5 to 7.5 miles per day.
Pugh said that his body was “really, really hammered” after the swim. This is about a week later. “Every day, these waves were crashing against me… It was just twisting and turning my body backward, forwards, forwards and backward, backward, forwards and forwards.”
There was also the risk of coming across a shark during the swim. According to Pugh,
there are around 40 species of sharks in the Red Sea. The most dangerous include hammerheads as well as oceanic whitetips, blacktips, and tiger sharks.
Pugh’s support boat had an electronic device that could repel sharks within four meters of its underside. This protected against any potential run-ins.
Pugh was captivated by the beauty of the sea life he saw close up.
He says, “When you swim across coral reefs it’s amazing because of the vibrant colors – the yellows and the purples along with all the wildlife that live in them.”
Pugh was joined for a section of the swim by Mariam Saleh Bin Laden, an open-water swimmer who became the first Arab, the first Saudi, and the first woman to swim from Saudi Arabia and Egypt to Egypt. Also, Mostafa Zaki, an Egyptian swimmer, was there.
The swim’s purpose was to highlight the importance of coral reefs around the world, which are home to some of the most vibrant marine ecosystems on earth, and their fragile status in the current climate crisis.
Scientists predict that 70% to 90% of coral will die in 20 years due to rising sea temperatures.
A report by an Australian government agency earlier this year revealed that coral bleaching has already occurred in 91% of the reefs along the Great Barrier Reef.
Pugh is a leader in marine protection and the UN Patron of Oceans. He says that the Red Sea’s corals and wildlife have survived the extreme temperatures for thousands of years. This has made it the home of some of the strongest corals in the world.
Other places, however, tell a different tale.
Pugh says that he did a swim across the Maldives’ width a few years back. He also recalls swimming over coral reefs.
“I returned 10 years later. The water temperature had increased; the animals had almost disappeared; and the coral was completely whitened, bleached, and dead.”
Pugh is currently in Sharm El-Sheikh for the COP27 climate summit. This was a place he visited during his swim across the Red Sea.
He plans to talk with world leaders about the climate crisis and its implications for the future of the planet, just like he did last year at COP26 in Glasgow (Scotland), after swimming across Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord.
Pugh says that the “ground zeros” of the climate crisis are the polar regions of the globe and coral reefs. “It’s obvious in these areas of the world that there is a very, very serious climate crisis.
Pugh’s long-distance swimming is partly to convince world leaders to create marine protected areas.
For example, in 2015, he took to the Ross Sea in Antarctica. It is the largest protected area in the world, covering 1.55 million kilometers.
Pugh wants to share stories with the swimmers about places around the globe that are often forgotten.
He says, “When you see land damage, it’s so very obvious.” It’s more difficult to do it underwater. These swims were my attempt to get people to the scene of the crime. I took the media, world leaders, and the public with me.
Pugh is still recovering from the Red Sea swim and isn’t sure what ocean he will dive into next wearing only his swimming shorts. Pugh is focusing on COP27, the pledges made by world leaders to address the climate crisis.
Pugh says, “We need to have much shorter and sharper commitments.” “And our commitments must be much greater than what I have seen before.”