Professional swimmer Sarah Ferguson says she learned how to swim before she could walk — and ever since, she’s been unable to stay away from water.
Growing up in South Africa, she swam competitively throughout her childhood and then became an accomplished athlete as an adult.
Over the years, though, the beloved bodies of water she knew so well began to fill up with plastic.
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The same can be said for bodies of water all around the world. Plastic pollution in marine environments has choked rivers in Indonesia, blanketed bays in the Caribbean, and smothered beaches in India.
And like activists in these places, Ferguson wanted to do something about it.
Her latest act has been to swim 62 miles from Ponta Dobela in Mozambique to Sodwana Bay in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, according to the Independent Online.
The non-continuous journey took six days and is going to be part of a documentary exploring the problem of plastic pollution.
“The issue of plastic pollution is a global one,” Ferguson told Independent Online. “The marine animals I was privileged to swim among are essential for our ecosystem. They do not have a voice to speak out on the negative effects of human ignorance and waste and I am choosing to use my voice to advocate on their behalf.”
Former competitive South African pool swimmer Sarah Ferguson swam 100 kilometers over a six-day period to demonstrate the threat of plastic pollution. https://t.co/aAy0sfGGpm— Dockwalk (@Dockwalk) August 17, 2018
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It’s not the first time Ferguson has campaigned to stop plastic pollution. The swimmer has teamed up with the South African supermarket chain SPAR in their effort to reduce plastic packaging and promote sustainable practices among consumers.
That’s part of South Africa’s larger push to get people to use alternatives to single-use plastics, like fabric tote bags.
Ferguson also founded the nonprofit Breathe Conservation to promote marine conservation.
The world’s oceans are threatened by a range of factors that could undermine their future integrity.
For instance, warming waters are dispersing fish populations and cooking coral reefs alive, acidifying waters are making it hard for crustaceans to reproduce, overfishing is plundering the waters of fish, industrial pollution is contaminating ecosystems, and a garbage truck full of plastic waste enters bodies of water every minute.
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Governments around the world are beginning to take these threats seriously and more than 60 countries have restricted plastic waste in some way.
Individuals like Ferguson are also playing a big role in mitigating the problem of plastic.
For instance, hundreds of young people recently attended an “ocean plastic bootcamp” to learn how to launch conservation initiatives in their hometowns. In Mumbai, a young activist Afroz Shah spearheaded a two-year effort to clean 11,684,500 pounds of trash from Versova beach. And the actor Adrian Grenier’s nonprofit Lonely Whale has mainstreamed plastic straw bans.
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For Ferguson, tackling plastic waste is a matter of existential urgency.
“We are destroying the planet we are called to look after,” she told Independent Online. “It is not too late to change but if we do not change our behaviour today, the next generation may not have the privilege of encountering marine life like I have been blessed to encounter.”