Published On: June 4, 2018

A Little Swim Across the Pacific

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Benoît Lecomte has taken up the unprecedented challenge of swimming across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to the United States with the aim of fighting pollution in the ocean. Born 50 years ago in France and a resident of the United States, Lecomte is seeking to become the first man to swim the 9,000 kilometers (5,592 miles) separating the two extremes of the Pacific without the help of any type of float. He will be accompanied by a boat to provide him with medical, scientific, and logistical support.

In 1998, Ben Lecomte performed a similar feat, swimming across the Atlantic in 73 days. The athlete and activist plans to start his journey on June 5 from Choshi beach (in Chiba, east of Tokyo) and swim for the next six to eight months to the coast of San Francisco. He has trained physically and mentally for seven years for this moment and feels prepared.

Ben Lecomte

Ben Lecomte

He will swim equipped with a wetsuit, goggles, snorkel tube, and fins besides shark repellant. If he successfully completes his journey, he will enter the Guinness World Records, although this is not his main motivation.

For this new challenge, never completed by anyone before, he needed a motivation that went beyond mere personal accomplishment. Thus, he chose to focus on preventing the pollution of the oceans by plastics.

Lecomte has teamed up with oceanographers, who saw this as a unique opportunity to analyze plastic micro-particles in the waters and their possible effects on the ecosystem and human health. Never before have plastics been found in the ocean on such a large scale.

Lecomte’s route is expected to pass through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, situated between Hawaii and California, a stretch of ocean that currently has the largest accumulation of plastic waste on Earth. The precise size of the patch is unknown but estimates range from 700,000 square kilometers (270,000 sq. miles) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometers (5,800,000 sq. miles). According to the UN, every year 8 million tons of plastics end up in the oceans and are ingested by marine animals, entering the food chain and ending up on our plates when we eat fish.

Great Pacific Garbage Path

Great Pacific Garbage Path

While making his epic swim, Lecomte will be followed by the accompanying boat Discoverer, which will take 1,000 samples of the water for different research projects in the fields of biology, medicine, and oceanography. Their data will be shared with 35 scientific organizations, among them NASA and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Not only will the data be analyzed for ocean plastic pollution, but monitoring Lecomte’s performance will also facilitate the analysis of the effects of prolonged extreme sports on the heart, and the impact of weightlessness (floating on water produces a similar effect) on the body.

Ben in 1998 after completing his swim across Atlantic

Ben in 1998 after completing his swim across Atlantic

The research team aboard the Discoverer will also measure the levels of cesium 134 and cesium 137 to determine how much the two radioactive isotopes, released by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, have spread in the Pacific Ocean.

The Discoverer, where Lecomte will rest after swimming eight hours every day, will carry a crew of two doctors, six sailors and researchers, and two cameras to document the journey. The boat will mark Lecomte’s location with a GPS at the end of each day so that he can resume the next day from exactly the same spot, and the information will be shared live on social networks. Lecomte hopes to cover between 32 and 64 kilometers every day, depending on ocean currents and weather conditions.

To fuel him across, his diet will include about 8,000 calories per day based on high-energy food such as rice, pasta, and fats. Lecomte hopes to come across many marine animals during his long trip, among them different species of sharks, given that his route is expected to pass through a migratory route for white sharks. Lecomte’s journey and the Discover research is being financed by the American scientific website Seeker and other sponsors.

For more information about this epic swim, visit www.thelongestswim.com/#

 

 

[This article originally appeared in the Latin America Herald Tribune in slightly different form.]

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