I think most of us can agree with endurance athlete and swimmer Ben Lecomte when he says, "The ocean is in peril right now."
But aside from giving money to charities, forgoing plastic shopping bags, and saying "no thanks" to plastic straws, it doesn't feel like there's much that individuals can do. (Of course, if you eat fish, making sustainable choices is another direct way to impact ocean health.)
But Lecomte thinks there's something else that he can do: swim across the Pacific Ocean. This has never been done before. He's starting in Japan and plans to swim 5,500 miles to San Francisco, one eight-hour day after another. His arduous journey is intended to raise awareness of the plight of the ocean — and to get some science done, too.
Lecomte will be accompanied by a sailing yacht, the Discoverer, complete with a crew of six who will document his journey over the six-or-so months it will take. "An electric-powered dinghy will trail Lecomte during swimming sessions, providing food and drink and helping in case of emergency," according to Seeker, a partner on the project and the creator of the video below describing the journey.
This isn't his first big swim
If his name sounds familiar, that's because Lecompte completed a swim across the Atlantic in 1998, traveling from Massachusetts to France. That swim raised funds for cancer research in memory of his father.
How does an athlete even prepare for such a feat?
"I have never stopped swimming, running or bicycling since my last swim," Lecomte told MNN. "I have been doing a fair amount of cross-training activities in preparation, but the real training will be when I start the swim. The first two to three weeks will important because my body will have to adapt to the new conditions and environment."
The Pacific Ocean is well-known for its rough seas and storms, and as he swims throughout June, July, August, September, and beyond, Lecomte and his team are bound to encounter choppy water that make swimming tough — and days when it's too dangerous to swim at all. But he's as prepared as he can be.
"Besides typical long-distance swim gear — a wet suit, goggles, snorkel and fins — Lecomte will wear a wrist-mounted, shark-repelling device and a waterproof biometric monitor. Data from the medical monitor will transmit health information to the crew as well as a team of doctors on land," according to Seeker.
The most challenging aspect of his swim "... might the cold water," Lecomte said. The most enjoyable part? "... swimming with wild sea life and sharing those moments with an amazing group of people, my crew," he said. That crew will help him get the 8,000 calories he needs to consume each day, and keep track, via GPS, of exactly where he stops each day so they can drop him off at the precise location the next morning. They will also provide a well-deserved resting place each night. (I'm guessing he'll be sleeping very well!)
Swimming for stewardship — and science
This swim isn't just about creating a new world record in swimming; it's about raising awareness of the impact of pollution and climate change. Lecomte and his team plan to collect more than 1,000 samples along the course of the voyage, doing citizen science in collaboration with 27 science institutions like NASA and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
They'll be looking at plastic pollution, mammal migrations, and the physical and mental toll the long-distance swim will take on Lecomte, which will add to to what scientists know about extreme endurance. "Plastic is one of the main samples we will collect, but we will also collect data on pH, salinity, temperature, radioactivity and medical data as well," said LeComte.
Lecomte will swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a roughly 60,000-square-mile area of ocean between California and Hawaii that has varying levels of floating plastic debris brought together by ocean currents.
"The goal of the swim is to get the attention on the state of the ocean and get people to take action and change their behavior, such as eliminating single-use plastic," said Lecomte.
To follow his journey, tune in to The Swim's main landing page along with Seeker's social platforms.