You’ve heard a lot about the ocean plastic crisis, and may even know a fair amount about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But for many of us, the issue can still seem far away when we drink out of a plastic bottle or tote groceries in a plastic bag. Professional distance swimmer Ben Lecomte aims to offer a fresh, personal perspective on ocean health as he swims 5,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Inhabitat caught up with Lecomte just days before he plans to leave for the potentially record-setting trek.
Lecomte could be the first man to swim across the Pacific Ocean, but that’s not his goal for this venture. “My goal is to do something a little bit out there, a little bit extreme, to get the attention on an issue very important to everybody: the state of the ocean,” he told Inhabitat. He’ll leave from Tokyo and swim to San Francisco, across thousands of miles, in a journey that could take around six months.
Lecomte’s father taught him how to swim in the Atlantic Ocean. “I remember spending a lot of summers on the beach and never seeing plastic. Within my lifetime, now it has suddenly changed. I cannot walk on a beach where I don’t see any plastic,” he said. “I have children, and I ask myself, how is it going to be for them when they are older and they walk with their kids, is it going to be worse, is it going to be better? The only way to make it better is first of all, we have to be aware of the problem, and second of all, we have to start taking action. And it’s something that we can do. We have a solution, but it means we change our habit, we change our behavior, and then by our collective action, we can make a difference.”
A volunteer-staffed, wind– and solar-powered sailboat will accompany Lecomte as he swims for around eight hours a day. He’ll need to consume about 8,000 calories daily, but he said he won’t take breaks on the boat and so won’t each much during those eight hours, just liquids like soup. He’ll eat two large meals in the morning and at night, and eat if he wakes up in the middle of the night. Will the sailboat inadvertently cover some of the distance? Lecomte says they’ll try to keep the boat in the place where he stops, but if they move, they will travel back so he can pick up where he left off.
Along the way, they’ll gather over 1,000 samples for 27 scientific partners with two main research focuses: ocean health and human health. Lecomte said that in the past, scientists typically haven’t been able to gather samples from across an entire ocean — that would take too long. But his journey offers a perfect opportunity to do so. Plastic is a primary emphasis; Lecomte will swim right through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Radiation from Fukushima and phytoplankton are among other ocean research areas.
To delve into human health, Lecomte will be working with NASA. “Since I’m going to be in low gravity, there are a few things they would like to find out how it’s going to affect me or not. My bone density is going to change; pressure on my eyes is also something that affects astronauts, [and they want] to find out if that’s going to change for me,” he said.
The wealth of information Lecomte could collect, and awareness he could raise, has the potential to be immense. But will such a voyage leave its own impact on the Pacific Ocean? Lecomte told Inhabitat renewable energy will generate the power they need. They won’t throw out trash, keeping everything on the boat, and will limit plastic packaging.
The team has partnered with several organizations, including Mission Blue, the Ocean Voyages Institute, and the Ocean Institute. “They already have initiatives in place we want to reinforce,” said Lecomte. “For example, the Ocean Institute has 2,500 kids that go to their activities and learn about the plastic problem in the ocean, and that will do some of the data and collect some of the samples we’ve collected, and replicate some of what we do. We’ll try to be in connection with them and interact with those kids so they know what they are doing is being done in the middle of the ocean as well.”
Lecomte is scheduled to leave on Wednesday, May 30. Seeker and Discovery are partnering for a project to cover Lecomte’s journey called The Swim, and they’ll produce content with Nomadica Films. Live coverage, mid-form and short-form videos, weekly Instagram stories, and weekly Discovery updates will all be part of The Swim, and the groups plan to release a feature-length documentary next year. You can also see where Lecomte is via The Longest Swim’s live tracker.
Images courtesy of Ben Lecomte