SA swimmer dives in to tackle ocean plastics
Sarah Ferguson will next month swim around fabled Easter Island to highlight the scourge of pollution
If the iconic stone heads on Easter Island could see, they would probably look on in bewilderment as a lone swimmer made her way through the rough seas around the remote World Heritage Site.
That swimmer is SA-born Sarah Ferguson, a woman on a mission to highlight and deal with the scourge of plastics in the world’s oceans. Hers is a swim that, according to a clean oceans advocacy group, nobody has ever completed before.
Next month, Ferguson will attempt to make history and become the first person to swim around Easter Island. It is a swim that NGO Plastic Oceans International said would take every ounce of her ability.
“Her journey will cover more than 65km through cold water and dangerous currents,” the NGO said. “The swim is estimated to take up to 24 hours to complete.”
Ferguson has previously done an endurance swim to highlight the world’s plastic problem. Last year, she covered 100km in six days, from Ponta Dobela in Mozambique to Sodwana Bay in KwaZulu-Natal – also to highlight the problem of ocean pollution.
But the “Swim Against Plastic: Easter Island” campaign will arguably be her biggest challenge to date. Only one other person has attempted to swim around the island’s coastline, according to Ferguson’s charity, Breathe Conservation, but they were unsuccessful.
“This is a huge challenge,” said Ferguson. “But my passion for ocean protection and rehabilitation is a strong driving force that fuels this dream.”
Easter Island – also known as Rapa Nui – is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Covering an area of just 165km², the Chilean Unesco-listed island is situated in the Pacific Ocean between Chile and New Zealand and falls under Chilean territory.
Despite its remoteness, according to Plastics Ocean Internationally, it is “not immune to the scourge of plastic pollution and the challenges that globalisation creates for waste management”.
It has one of the highest concentrations of microplastics in the world, the NGO said, “most of which originates from thousands of miles away”.
“Despite being one of the most remote inhabited locations in the world, the island is in peril at the hands of plastic pollution, while also facing major waste management challenges due to a massive growth in tourism that is producing 20 tons of waste per day,” the NGO said.
Its population has doubled in size to 7,750 people in the last 20 years. There has also been a 500% increase in tourist numbers in that same period, and is expected to receive 100,000 tourists a year by 2020.
Plastic Oceans International director Julie Andersen said the fact that plastics had found their way to Easter Island showed just why a swim and awareness campaign like Ferguson’s was so necessary.
“The planet needs leaders to draw attention to the serious global plastic pollution problem worldwide – threatening the ocean, our food sources and the environment – to understand the dangers of and change how we think about and use plastic.
“By showing the world that our most valued and remote locations are not immune to plastic pollution, our goal is to inspire people to find solutions and eliminate the use of single-use plastics that attribute to the problem,” Andersen said.
Apart from the swim, cleanups and education programmes have been put in place. The exact dates of these, and of the swim, are yet to be announced, but all will take place next month.
“It is our responsibility to protect the ocean,” said Ferguson. “I’m proud to partner with Plastics Oceans International on this campaign to fight the problem of plastic pollution.”