SA swimmer keeps making waves with her clean sweeps
First woman to swim from Umhlanga to Durban just became the first known person to swim around Easter Island
South African endurance swimmer Sarah Ferguson is not scared of being first.
She was the first woman to swim the 17.9km from Umhlanga to Durban’s main beaches in June 2014, the first person to swim KwaZulu-Natal’s Aliwal Shoal – famous for shark cave diving – in May 2017, and the first African woman to swim the 58km Ka’iwi Channel in Hawaii just a month later.
And on Saturday, March 16, at 3.15am local time, she became the first known person to ever swim around Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean.
With the iconic stone heads watching over her, Ferguson swam 63.5km through rough waters and strong currents in her one-piece costume, stopping only to take in food and drink. It took her 19 hours and eight minutes, some five hours short of the 24 hours it was expected to take.
The “Swim Against Plastic: Easter Island” campaign was done to raise awareness about the scourge of plastics in the world’s oceans. The project was done jointly by environmental advocacy group Plastic Oceans International and Ferguson’s own NPO, Durban-based Breathe Conservation.
“Once it was finished, I was stoked. I was relieved, and enjoyed the happy celebrations,” Ferguson said in an e-mail interview this week.
She said the swim pushed her to her absolute limits.
“There was a section at the beginning after the first point, I was getting tired, and it was very tough. I couldn’t let myself think of what I had left to go, so I would distract myself by thinking of people or doing maths in my head. I broke it down and thought about it step by step.
“Between the first and second corner was the most difficult section. It was hot. I was swimming into a current; it was a long stretch. I had to really dig deep,” she said.
Ferguson said she enjoyed the swim – although not in the way most people would find enjoyable.
The best part?
“Definitely as we rounded the second corner. It was wild. There were waves and currents and wind – like everything collected at that one section. It was wild and intense, and I loved it!” she said.
On the day Ferguson finished her awareness swim, a beach clean-up operation revealed the extent of the plastics problem.
On one stretch of beach alone, more than 272kg of plastic pollution was picked up from the Viringa o Tuki area, a well-known local surf spot. The waters around Easter Island contain one of the highest concentrations of microplastics in the Pacific Ocean, even though the island is regarded as the most remote inhabited place on the plant. The nearest island is more than 1,900km away.
Microplastics samples gathered from the beach clean-up operation will be sent for analysis by Arizona State University.
Ferguson said the problem of plastics in the ocean was something she could not ignore – and it was this desire to do something about it that led her to tackle her Easter Island swim.
“Plastic in the ocean is a big concern. It’s not just a personal issue, it’s a global one. It affects everyone – when I have kids one day, they’ll be affected. It affects my nieces and nephews. It affects my friends’ kids. It affects everyone.
“We’re destroying the planet, and it’s something we can fix. It’s not impossible to rectify. I believe we’re called to look after the Earth, and we’re not doing that. We need to start thinking deeply about these things,” she said.
And now that this swim is done, what next for the intrepid Durbanite?
“At the moment I am just trying to process what’s happened, and what’s been done,” she said. “Watch this space for what comes next.”