Lewis Pugh becomes UN Patron for Oceans

Pioneer swimmer and ocean advocate, Lewis Pugh, has been named the UN Environment Programme’s Patron for Oceans as he prepares to embark on an epic circumnavigation of the globe. Next year Lewis Pugh will embark on a three-year journey that will see him cross three oceans and eighteen seas. Along the way, he will be promoting UNEP’s work and spearheading their campaign for the establishment of more Marine Protected Areas.

Lewis Pugh_UNEP

Lewis Pugh swam across an open patch of sea at the North Pole to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice. Photo: UNEP


Lewis Pugh is the only person to have completed a long distance swim in every ocean of the world. In 2007 he swam across an open patch of sea at the North Pole to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice and in 2010 he swam across a newly formed glacial lake on Mt Everest to draw attention to the impact of climate change in the Himalayas.

“I’m very excited to engage with UNEP as Patron for their work on oceans. Their work is crucial,” said Mr. Pugh. “One of the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity is to see 10 per cent of our oceans set aside as properly managed Marine Protected Areas by 2020. We must achieve this target. Over 10 per cent of terrestrial land is protected by National Parks. If we can do it on land, we can surely do the same in the sea. I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and helping UNEP in every way possible.”

“I have been swimming for 27 years, and over that period I’ve seen our oceans change. I’ve seen enormous chunks of ice slide off Arctic glaciers. I’ve swum over bleached coral killed by rising sea temperatures, and over the bones of whales hunted to the edge of extinction. I’ve visited lakes high in the Himalayas where once there was only ice,” Mr. Pugh added. “I’ve seen drastic changes in my lifetime – changes that have come about because of our actions. In my lifetime I’d like to see us change, because we have it within our power to make a positive difference.”

Pugh’s experience as an inspirational speaker will play a key role in bolstering support for a world in which oceans and seas are seen as vital natural resources that require far higher levels of sustainable management and conservation. Millions have viewed his talks at TEDGlobal on conserving our oceans. His speech on leadership at the BIF Conference in Rhode Island was voted one of the “7 Most Inspiring Videos on the Web.” In 2010, the World Economic Forum named him a Young Global Leader.

“Humanity is having an inordinate environmental and economic impact on oceans and seas,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “UNEP’s Green Economy report has identified transformational pathways that can reduce pollution, address overfishing and achieve a marine environment that can into the future continue to support lives and livelihoods in areas from tourism to fisheries and renewable energies. The messages Lewis will carry to audiences across the globe can inspire and catalyse action.”

UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme, launched in 1974 in the wake of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, engages neighbouring countries in comprehensive and specific actions to sustainably manage their shared marine environment. Today, more than 143 countries participate in one or more of the 18 Regional Seas programmes around the world, six of which are administered by UNEP. 

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