SPAR Women's Challenge 2019

Sarah's epic swim to highlight global plastic pollution

SPAR Eastern Cape's eco-ambassador breaks a world record with her 65km “Swim Against Plastic” round Easter Island

Record-breaking swimmer Sarah Ferguson visited Port Elizabeth in March 2019 as an ambassador for SPAR Eastern Cape and to highlight its campaign against plastic pollution
Record-breaking swimmer Sarah Ferguson visited Port Elizabeth in March 2019 as an ambassador for SPAR Eastern Cape and to highlight its campaign against plastic pollution
Image: Leon Hugo

South African endurance swimmer Sarah Ferguson broke a world record in a 65km “Swim Against Plastic” round Easter Island in March.

And it was a swim with a purpose, as with every stroke she hoped to raise awareness about the shocking level of pollution in this remote Pacific heritage spot.

“It was horrific , and devastating, seeing how much plastic there was. “There were just tons and tons and most of it doesn’t even come from Easter Island,” the Durban-based physiotherapist and eco-campaigner said.

“The local people don’t really use a lot of plastic so it brings home the reality of the situation.”

Just two weeks before her epic world record feat Sarah was in Port Elizabeth as a high-profile ambassador for SPAR Eastern Cape’s Stop Plastics campaign.

Already SPAR has seen the impact of its ongoing campaign with 3 million fewer plastic bags sold over just a few months in 2018 and it has also had a major impact in creating awareness of the problem.

Live deeply, tread lightly

And Sarah certainly walks the talk – or, rather, she dives right in and swims it.

“Live deeply, tread lightly and follow your passions but be aware of the impact of your actions,” is her mantra.

Chile’s Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as the locals know it, is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. It’s also a World Heritage Site famous for the stone heads, or moai, that line its coast.

Sadly, says Sarah, it has not escaped the blight of plastic pollution and she chose this iconic location for her swim because it also has an extremely high level of plastic debris.

Ironically, however, most of the microplastics that wash up on Rapa Nui beaches come from thousands of kilometres away.

How many people who see a plastic cool drink bottle, polystyrene take-away box or chip packet on a beach in Nelson Mandela Bay know that this litter tossed away may be killing ocean life in the farthest corners of the world?

Sarah would like to educate people so that they will be more mindful of how they use – and dispose of – plastic in general.

“Port Elizabeth is much cleaner than Durban, which is close to a river that washes lots of plastics washed down to the sea.


Single-use plastic carrier bags

Small fruit and vegetable bags

Plastic straws

Plastic cutlery and crockery, including stirrers and coffee and cool drink cups

Plastic ear buds

“However, the plastic on Easter Island beaches doesn’t have that, there is no river. The plastic on its beaches comes from China and Australia which is about as far away as you possibly can get and shows how plastic pollution affects us everywhere, not only where you are but elsewhere also.”

The Swim Against Plastic Easter Island campaign was her biggest challenge in a water-based career that has included a solo Robben Island crossing as well as a six-day swim down the coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

She is also an ambassador for Plastic Oceans International which fights the problem of plastic pollution, and founded Breathe Conservation, a non-profit which aims to eliminate disposable plastic.

How to win the battle against plastic

Sarah says the battle can be won if everyone plays their part.

  1. Use a bamboo or pasta straw or don’t use one at all.
  2. Avoid unnecessary packaging and reuse packaging wherever possible.
  3. Take your own re-usable bag to the supermarket.
  4. Take your own reusable cup when you buy a take-away coffee from one of the SPAR Bean Tree coffee stations.
  5. When you buy a takeaway, takeyour own container.
  6. Drink tap water (South Africa’s water quality is one of the best in the world says Sarah) and don’t buy water in a plastic bottle.

Impossible? Not in this campaigner’s eyes, noting that San Francisco has just banned the sale of plastic water bottles.

Read the amazing story of Sarah Ferguson’s Easter Island swim in her own words at the Plastic Oceans website.



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