Chilean writes history by swimming frozen waters of Antarctica

Antarctica, Feb 7 (IANS): To raise awareness for the need to protect its waters, Chilean ice-water swimmer, Barbara Hernandez, has made history by being the first person to swim 2.5 km in the frozen waters of Antarctica.

Hernandez, an experienced open water swimmer with previous world records including the Guinness World Record for completing the fastest ocean mile swim through the Drake Passage in southern Chile, is currently onboard a Chilean Navy ship in Antarctica.

As a member of the Antarctica2020 group of leaders calling for greater marine protection in the region and working closely with the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, she has been supporting the call to world leaders to act to ensure the conservation of the ocean and the continent at a meeting that will be happening in Santiago, Chile in June.

In just a simple swimsuit, with no protective clothing or grease, Barbara made the 45 minutes and 50 seconds swim in a water temperature of 2.2 Celsius, pushing through the icy waves in Chile Bay, Greenwich Island in the Antarctic Peninsula.

"I'm so happy and so relieved that it all went well today. Swimming in Antarctica has been a dream I've had for years, and part of my longtime ambition to swim in parts of all seven of the world's oceans. Physically it has been incredibly tough, but all worth it if the message on the need for urgent action to protect these amazing waters reaches decision-makers," Hernandez said on Monday when she made history.

Currently, three large-scale marine protection proposals are on the table within the international body responsible for conserving Antarctica's waters - the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in the East Antarctic, Weddell Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula, the same place where Hernandez undertook her extreme swimming challenge.

These proposals, collectively covering almost 4 million square km (one per cent of the global ocean), have been up for agreement for years, but geopolitics have hampered progress, with China and Russia yet to come on board.

To help move through this impasse, a special CCAMLR meeting dedicated to MPAs has been called from June 19-23 in Santiago, Chile.

"The courage that Barbara has shown in undertaking this swim in the name of Antarctic ocean protection is truly inspirational. That someone put her life on the line to get greater awareness of the problems in the region, shows the urgency of the issue. We hope that leaders take notice and show political courage at the CCAMLR meeting in June to secure the protection of these three large areas," said Claire Christian, Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition.

Antarctica and its surrounding ocean and the wildlife that lives there are coming under increasing pressure from the climate crisis.

This is further compounded by concentrated fishing in the area for krill, which is competing with the food sources for much of Antarctica's wildlife, such as whales, penguins and seals that rely on krill for survival.

Science has shown that marine protected areas are a key tool to help build resilience for ocean habitats and wildlife to adapt to the increasing changes in the region.



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