Students “passionate” about marine conservation after meeting UN oceans advocate Lewis Pugh
5 February 2020
Nine students from Stoke Damerel Community College and Scott College have spent an amazing day in London, after being invited to meet endurance swimmer and the UN’s Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh.
Plymouth-born Lewis took a number of questions from the students, following his remarkable swim underneath the ice shelf in East Antarctica - making him the first person to ever swim in a supra-glacial lake, a lake on top of a glacier.
He undertook the dangerous challenge in January in order to demonstrate the rapid changes that are happening in Antarctica and to highlight the need for the urgent establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around Antarctica: “I swam for 10 minutes and 17 seconds. It felt like 10 days before the team finally pulled me out,” Lewis wrote in his blog. “The water temperature was just above 0°C, the air temperature well below that, and I was frozen to my core.
“East Antarctica is the coldest place on earth. Even so, everywhere I looked there was water rushing off the ice-sheet, carving long ravines deep into the ice sheet, or pooling into supra-glacial lakes. Antarctica is melting.”
He did the swim in nothing more than his swimming trunks, cap and goggles!
Both of our schools had been following Lewis’ Antarctica 2020 Project after his team offered us the opportunity to ask him questions about it as part of students’ geography and biology studies. Three Year 7 and two Year 12 geography students from Stoke Damerel CC were joined by four Year 12s from Scott College, accompanied by Mr Campion and Miss Avis.
The day was made possible thanks to GWR, who at short notice provided all the rail tickets for free.
Before meeting Lewis, the group visited Somerset House, where they were met by Clare Brook, CEO of the Blue Marine Foundation, and its Senior Overseas Project Manager, Rory Moore. The students were given a brief history of Somerset House and gained a fantastic insight into the ongoing development of the UK’s first National Marine Park in Plymouth.
The group then met Lewis in the boardroom of the Devonport-built ship, HQS Wellington, which is permanently moored on the River Thames in London. Also there to meet them was our local constituency MP Luke Pollard, who is the Shadow Environment Minister.
The students asked Lewis questions about the global consequences of not protecting Antarctica, the barriers that prevent new Marine Protected Areas being created in Antarctica and the details of the swim, including the physical impact on his body.
Lewis outlined the serious impact sea level rise would have on many cities and nations across the world. He also explained that most people agree Antarctica should be protected, but that the final 2% of detail is often the biggest barrier. He talked about his role as a UN Patron of the Oceans and how his love of the oceans started when he lived in Plymouth - and he suggested that passionate individuals have a voice and can help enhance the protection of Antarctica.
Mr Campion said: “Lewis also shared amazing detail of the beauty and challenge of the swim, from spectacular colours under the ice sheet to the risk of frostbite. The students clearly understood the extreme lengths Lewis went to, to get his message across. Lewis shared with the students how he trained on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, but also how his heart for seeing change in the protection of Antarctica was what helped him complete the swim.
“He was so engaging; the students were mesmerized by his experiences. They have come back passionate about Plymouth’s National Marine Park and about protecting our oceans. Huge thanks to Lewis, the Blue Marine Foundation and GWR for making this day possible.”
Miss Avis added: “Both Lewis and Luke Pollard, who is also passionate about conserving our oceans, talked about what we in Plymouth can do to help preserve our marine environment. We all had a very inspiring and thought-provoking day.”
The students rounded off their trip with a short walk to Westminster via Downing Street to see some of London’s sights before heading back to Paddington for the train back to Plymouth.
Since the swim, Lewis has met political leaders in Russia, the UK and the EU to call for action on climate change and more protection for Antarctica - he headed to Brussels straight after meeting our students.
Antarctica 2020 is the latest of Lewis’ high-profile endurance swims - he is the only person to have completed a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world. You can read more about his achievements and his Antarctica blog at