10 Oct 2022 3 min read

Coral in crisis

By Lewis Pugh

I last swam in the Red Sea in 2014. It was in Aqaba, Jordan, and the air temperature was 55ºC.

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The sun was scorching, and I knew no amount of sunscreen was going to stop my back from burning. It felt like I was under a hairdryer. But I forgot about this as soon as I looked down and saw what I was swimming over: the coral was exquisite. The colours were magnificent – startling oranges, yellows and reds, and an electric blue coral surrounded by tropical fish.

Then I swam across an invisible boundary and out of the Marine Protected Area (MPA), and everything beneath me changed: the coral was white and dead, the fish all gone. That is the difference an MPA makes. It can be the difference between biodiversity and death.

Overheating

But while a fully protected area can allow marine life to thrive undisturbed by overfishing, it can't stop the water from getting warmer.

I've been swimming in the world's oceans for 35 years. The biggest changes I've seen during that time have been in the Polar Regions, and to coral reefs. Both are being rapidly impacted by rising temperatures: the poles are melting, and the coral is dying.

Scientists are warning us that if we heat our planet by more than 1.5°C, we will lose 70% of the world's coral reefs. If we heat it by 2°C, 99% of coral reefs will die. We are currently on track for at least a 2.2°C increase1.

Coral reefs are barometers that clearly indicate what happens when we heat our planet. Every fraction of a degree now matters.

The Red Sea Swim

In October I will be returning to swim in the Red Sea once again.

I will be undertaking the first swim across the Red Sea, which I expect to take two weeks, covering around 10 km each day. Along the way I will swim over some of the world's most precious coral reefs, and across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes leading to the Suez Canal.

I will also swim the waters near Sharm el Sheikh, where Egypt will host this year's UN Climate Change Conference (COP27). Of course the timing is no coincidence. My aim is to highlight the vulnerability of our coral reefs just before world leaders and decision makers gather to discuss the Climate Crisis.

In the run-up to COP 27, I will be urging all nations to drastically cut their emissions and protect the world’s oceans.

Coral in the Red Sea

There is no better place to highlight coral in crisis than the Red Sea.

Half the world’s coral reefs are thought to have died since 19502. Bleaching events worldwide have decimated coral reefs, leaving them bone white and lifeless.

But there is something extraordinary about Red Sea coral. Marine scientists are finding that a large range of corals along the 4,000 kilometres of Red Sea reef are uniquely adaptive to warming waters.

This may be the only coral reef ecosystem that has a chance to withstand the more than 2°C increase in temperature expected by the end of the century.

Inaction is not an option

This is certainly not a reason to stand back and allow the Climate Crisis to continue uncontested: it is a reminder that we still have time to intervene, to use our will and our ingenuity as inhabitants of this fragile planet to address the problem we have created.

I am proud to once again be partnering with LGIM for this expedition. LGIM has championed our call to protect oceans and they believe that inaction simply is not an option. By actively engaging with companies, policymakers and the investment industry more broadly, LGIM seeks to  tackle a range of ESG issues.

I believe the heating of our planet is without doubt the most urgent of these. Under its Climate Impact Pledge, LGIM has also committed to help companies limit carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Coral reefs are just one casualty of the Climate Crisis, which is an existential threat to all life on earth. And like the canary in the coalmine, they are sending us a signal that we need to act, now.

I simply refuse to accept that we could lose them in my lifetime.

 

1. IPCC Report 2021: "Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the majority (70–90%) of warm water (tropical) coral reefs that exist today will disappear even if global warming is constrained to 1.5°C”. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/. IPCC Report 2018: “Virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2°C”. https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/

2. One Earth 2021: https://www.cell.com/one-earth/fulltext/S2590-3322(21)00474-7

 

 

 

 

Lewis Pugh

Endurance swimmer and the UN Patron of the Oceans

Lewis Pugh swims in the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth to call for their protection. He was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world. He was also the first to swim across the North Pole and the first to swim the full length of the English Channel. Lewis has been instrumental in protecting over two million km² of vulnerable ocean – an area larger than Western Europe. At LGIM, we are united with Lewis in our aim to tackle the climate crisis. We believe inaction is not an option and are proud to support Lewis’ efforts to raise awareness and push for positive change.

Lewis Pugh