Swimmer goes distance in war on plastic

Marathon effort by campaign ambassador

It takes a mammoth endeavour to draw attention to a monstrous problem.
That is the thrust of a unique 11-part video of a 100km mega-swim down the Elephant Coast by SPAR Eastern Cape Stop Plastic campaign ambassador Sarah Ferguson, the first segment of which was released this week.
Part one of the video covers the first leg of Ferguson’s amazing six-day swim from Ponta Milibangalala in Mozambique to Sodwana in northern KwaZulu-Natal and includes surface and underwater visuals, plus footage of iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
Ferguson said on Tuesday she had tackled the swim to encourage people to “live deeply, tread lightly and follow your passions . . . but be aware of the impact of your actions”.
She said it was aimed at raising awareness about the pollution crisis caused by throwaway plastics, and the lifestyle changes that everyone could make to rescue the planet from disaster.
“Each stroke of the swim represented one simple consumer decision that impacts our oceans.”
Ferguson grew up in Cape Town and studied physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape.
She swam competitively for Western Province and KwaZulu-Natal and then moved on to ocean marathons, completing all of SA’s major routes.
After moving to Durban to do her community service, she travelled to India to establish and run a sports physiotherapy course and spent some time working with the national Indian swimming team.
She had always hated litter but in India she understood for the first time how bad the situation was, she said.
“Seeing the incredible pollution in such a beautiful country stirred something in me.”
Ferguson subsequently spent time in Hawaii and it was there that she formulated the idea for her first mission, to swim the 42km Ka’iwi Channel, the Valley of Bones, to draw awareness to the problem of ocean plastic pollution.
Returning to Durban she founded the nonprofit organisation Breathe Conservation, started training and completed the Hawaii swim in July 2017 – the first African woman to do so.
SPAR Eastern Cape, meanwhile, having met Ferguson at a presentation in Durban, invited her to join its new Stop Plastic campaign.
The campaign was launched in April, geared around persuading shoppers to exchange their usual plastic carry bag for a paper one.
On Ferguson’s SPAR EC-sponsored Elephant Coast swim in July 2018, she encountered manta rays, turtles, dolphins, whales – and Zambezi sharks.
Although there were one or two tense moments with sharks, she felt secure under the guidance of John McCarthy who kayaked the whole route with her, and the rest of her support team.
“On one occasion we just bunched up and swam together as a single unit, and two Zambezis that were eyeballing us moved away.
“Sharks are misunderstood. I was more worried about jellyfish and bluebottles.”
She did hit a flotilla of bluebottles at one point and spent another exhausting day zig-zagging back and forth trying to find some support from the Mozambican Current – but she completed her mission, becoming the first person to swim the Elephant Coast.
Ferguson said the plastic pollution crisis could be beaten if everyone joined the battle.
“Use a bamboo or pasta straw or don’t use one at all.
“Avoid unnecessary packaging and reuse stuff wherever possible.
“Take your own re-usable bag to the supermarket and your own reusable cup when you buy a take-away coffee.”
The first episode of the video can be viewed on www.facebook.com/BreatheOcean1 and at www.breatheconservation.org.
The next 10 episodes will be released on these sites over the next six weeks.

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