Meet The Man Attempting To Swim Across The Pacific Ocean (For An Incredible Cause)

Photo: Ben Lecomte

French endurance athlete Ben Lecomte just set out to become the first person to swim across the entire Pacific Ocean—a feat that will take more than six months if he logs eight hours in the water a day. More than a physical challenge, the swim is an act of conservation.

"I try to not focus on the pain but instead on the reason I'm swimming and the overall purpose of this expedition," Lecomte wrote to mbg before setting out on his journey earlier this week. A team of scientists and researchers will trail him over the 5,500 miles through storms and garbage patches to collect data samples on water quality and pollution. The voyage, seven years in the making, will also be filmed (you can follow along on live tracker here) and eventually turned into a Discovery Channel documentary to raise awareness on ocean issues.

Lecomte is no stranger to the open water: In fact, he became the first person to swim across the Atlantic in 1998, which took 73 days. This time around, though, the stakes are higher because he's a parent who's hoping the swim can help shape a better world for his kids.

As for how he'll withstand the stormy conditions, intense cold, and heavily polluted areas? After years of training with open-ocean swims, biking, and running, he'll be eating a no-sugar, high-fat diet on board and taking things one hour at a time with the help of some mindful rituals. "I meditate and go through mental exercises to dissociate my mind from my body," he explains.

How you can be an advocate for the ocean (without swimming 30 miles a day).

Photo: Ben Lecomte

The start of Lecomte's adventure leads into World Oceans Day on June 8—a global occasion to take a stand on ocean issues. Even if you're not an ultra-ambitious endurance athlete, now is a great time to think a little bit more critically about how your everyday routine is helping or hurting the world's waters. And one of the greatest threats to ocean health continues to be plastic pollution.

According to National Geographic's new Planet or Plastic? campaign, around 8.8 million tons of plastic are likely released into our oceans a year, posing a real threat to animals and entire ecosystems.

"Sea birds ingest plastic, and science even shows that plastic colonized by microbes gives off an odor of food to the birds," explains Jenna Jambeck, associate professor at the University of Georgia and National Geographic Explorer whose research on plastic is helping drive the advocacy campaign. "Plastic bags can be mistaken by turtles as jellyfish, and now we have heard about several whales with stomachs full of plastic bags too."

More than 40 percent of plastic is created to be disposed of, but these plastics never really disappear. After clogging our beaches, suffocating marine life, and accumulating in massive trash piles like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, our plastics slowly biodegrade into tiny microplastics. These microscopic plastic remnants have been found in just about every pocket of our marine landscape—deep in the ocean trenches and embedded on shorelines (the sand on some beaches in Hawaii is now made up of up to 15 percent microplastic pieces). These microplastics, which absorb toxins in the environment, are in our fish too—scientist have found them in 114 aquatic species, including many that we eat. Their impact on human health is not yet known.

With all that being said, Jambeck asserts the most important thing you can do to help our oceans is give up single-use plastics like water bottles, straws, plastic baggies, and unnecessary food packaging. Recycling is not enough, because it only encourages the single-use plastic industry to continue to produce on a massive scale. Jambeck recommends making one plastic swap at a time and building momentum so as not to take on too much from the get-go and become discouraged.

From there, you can tackle your closet and beauty cabinet to get rid of products made with harmful microbeads. "If a product has 'polyethylene' on the back, it contains these beads, which wash down the drain and can get into our waterways. Microfibers also wash off of synthetic clothing, especially fleece or fleece-like textiles." Choose beauty products made without microbeads (they will be a thing of the past in the United States by 2019 anyway), and go for clothing made from natural fibers whenever possible moving forward (here is a ranking of the most eco-friendly ones). For the synthetics you already own, products like the Guppy Bag or Cora Ball can help trap some of their microfibers and prevent them from washing off into the water.

"I am truly optimistic that the world will come together to work toward solutions to this problem," Jambeck says. "And if we do work together locally and globally, then maybe that means we can work toward solving even bigger problems too!"

Check out a few more ways to get involved in World Oceans Day here!

And are you ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

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