“I am urging world leaders to take bold climate action at COP27,” Pugh, the first UN patron of the Oceans in 2013, said ahead of his mammoth expedition.
Pugh is swimming all the way from Saudi Arabia to Egypt across the Red Sea, before travelling to Sharm El-Sheikh to attend the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference, which will be held in the Red Sea resort in South Sinai 6-18 November.
Pugh’s swim started on 11 October and is set to last until 26 October when he reaches the Egyptian city of Hurghada on the Red Sea.
Through his two-week swim, which he says is longer than what he is normally used to, Pugh aims to highlight the need for nations to cut emissions and limit global warming in order to protect the world’s oceans and coral reefs.
Oceans absorb almost all excess heat caused by global warming, according to scientists.
“My message to world leaders is very clear; every fraction of a degree of warming now matters. And this is why if we continue to overheat our planet, we are on course to lose 99 percent of all coral reefs,” Pugh said in video released ahead of his expedition.
“No matter where you are on this planet, this will impact you,” he warned.
In his message, Pugh urged all nations to drastically cut their emissions without any further delay.
According to the Lewis Pugh Foundation, the 52-year-old swimmer will call at the COP27 for 30 percent of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030 given the role played by healthy oceans in mitigating climate change impacts.
Pugh is undertaking his expedition in partnership with the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), an Egyptian NGO concerned with marine and land preservation in the Red Sea.
HEPCA calls for declaring the Egyptian Red Sea governorate’s fringing reefs as a multiple-use protected area.
“There is clear scientific evidence that the Great Fringing Reef, which is characterised with high resilience and tolerance to climate change, could be the last refuge for coral reefs worldwide,” the foundation stated.
HEPCA is also working on alleviating the pressure on the coral reefs around the Red Sea city of Hurghada resulting from excessive diving.
At some sites, dives, one of the main causes of physical damage to coral reefs, reach forty times the recommended capacity of 5,000 – 22,000.
Pugh is known for swimming across vulnerable ecosystems to urge action to protect them.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), he is the first person to complete long-distance swims in all the world’s oceans.
Reefs on COP27 agenda
Protecting and rehabilitation of coral reefs in the Red Sea is on Egypt’s agenda for COP27.
In early September, Egypt’s Ministry of Environment announced a trilateral cooperation protocol to implement an experimental project to rehabilitate the coral reefs in sites affected by human activities in the Red Sea.
The protocol, signed by the Egyptian Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, and Gabrtek diving company, aims to empower the company to establish nurseries for coral reefs and rehabilitate the most affected areas.
The protocol also aims at implementing monitoring and evaluation programmes of the situation of marine natural resources in the area where the project will be implemented and training workers in the nature preservation sector.
The project will study the best practices and ways of rehabilitating coral reefs in the Red Sea and conduct surveys, reports, and statistics on biological diversity in the area of the project, according to Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad.
Egypt will showcase the project during COP27 as a “story of success and a pioneering Egyptian experience in mitigating the impacts of climate change,” the minister stressed.
Egypt will also stress at COP27 the need for cutting emissions dramatically, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and keeping this goal within reach under the Paris Agreement.
Scientists have warned that coral reefs, which are one of the must vulnerable ecosystems, could be totally damaged by two degrees of warming.
Almost a quarter of all marine life, including thousands of fish species, depend on the coral reefs, according to scientists.
Between 2009 and 2018, 14 percent of the world’s coral reefs were lost to climate change, according to a study by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network in October last year.
Egypt protecting reefs
Egyptian Red Sea waters, home to over 200 types of coral reefs that are known for their resilience to climate change’s effects, struggle with the issue of coral bleaching due global warming and other factors, including pollution.
Egypt has taken many actions to protect its coral reefs, which attract reef tourism to the country, against harmful human activities, including installing buoys to prevent vessels from mooring in fragile areas.
In November 2018, Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh hosted a UN Biodiversity Conference, which urged the world to take urgent action to protect coral reefs, which provide food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions worldwide and support 25 percent of marine life.