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RIYADH: Lewis Pugh, renowned endurance swimmer and UN Environment Programme’s patron of the oceans, has made a clear call: it’s time for urgent climate action to save coral reefs in order to support life on earth.

Pugh, an ocean advocate and pioneer swimmer who has been a leading figure in ocean protection efforts, took part in a conference organized by the British Embassy in Riyadh on saving coral reefs.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the UN chief shared the purpose of his visit to Saudi Arabia: “It’s to start talking about the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), which is taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, which is in the Red Sea.. And the situation with coral reefs is very, very bad. The science is that if we heat the planet by 1.5 degrees (Celsius), 70% of coral reefs die If we heat the planet two degrees, 99% of coral reefs die We are now on track for at least 2.3 to 2.4 degrees We are on track to lose all coral in my lifetime .

Pugh said that coral reefs are essential to life on Earth and that about a quarter of life in the oceans lives in coral reefs: “They are the nurseries of our oceans, and they are absolutely essential for these countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan… It’s something so precious that we can’t afford to lose those coral reefs.

“I’m here to tell everyone in Saudi Arabia that every fraction of a degree now matters,” Pugh said.

Pugh, who is the first person to have completed a long-distance swim in all the oceans of the world, was asked if he was going to swim in the Red Sea in the Kingdom: “Yes, I have to make an announcement very soon. J ‘ve always wanted to take a really big swim in the Red Sea and hope to make an announcement next week.

Praising Saudi Arabia for its green initiative and commitment to advancing the fight against climate change, Pugh stressed, “Saudi Arabia obviously has a very important role to play. They are part of the G20 and they now have the funds to invest in new technologies and the transition, because we have to do it very quickly to move from fossil fuels to renewable energies. I think they can play such an important role in leading the world towards a sustainable future.

During his visit at a time of transformation in various fields in line with Saudi Vision 2030, the ocean advocate said, “Well, I am very happy to be here. This is my first time in Saudi Arabia. This is my first time down to Neom this weekend to see this part of the country. I’m really excited. Many of my friends have dived there. And they told me it was one of the most amazing places to dive into our world.

“When you think of the Red Sea in the West, you think of Egypt. But the Red Sea forms the Jordanian border to Yemen. It’s about 2,200 km, Saudi Arabia owns more than half of the Red Sea, and obviously she has a duty and a responsibility to protect it. It’s one of the great natural wonders of the world,” he said.

“As we say to Brazilians, you have the majority of the Amazon, and you must protect it for all of humanity. A message to Saudi Arabia, you have something that is precious to the whole world. Let’s work together to protect this natural wonder of the world,” added the UN ocean boss.

The Saudi Swimming Federation aims to promote water sports among Saudi youth, when asked if he was open to cooperation with the federation, the endurance swimmer told Arab News: “I am not here only for a few days i never come to a country just once COP27 is currently in Sharm El Sheikh COP28 will be in Dubai Saudi Arabia is the meat in the middle of the sandwich I will be back here for a few years now to talk about this transition we need to make towards a sustainable future. I do it through sport. Sport has a message. So I would like to swim with Saudi swimmers.

Pugh highlighted the melting Arctic sea ice, melting Himalayan glaciers and the impact that reduced water supplies will have on world peace, and has a message for Saudi youth: “I have tried to swim very simply. It therefore carries a message. Every stroke must have a purpose; each swim should highlight a specific part of the world, and why it is important to protect it. And then afterwards, I’m going to meet with politicians, business leaders and communities in this region to try to protect them.

He added: “Over a period of 35 years, my team and I have done something in some incredible places. But the vast majority of swims have been in the polar regions, in the Arctic and Antarctica, it is where we see the huge change, we see the ice melting. And as I mentioned, we see coral and ice as the two ground zeros of the climate crisis. That’s where we see the change happen. So I want to do more coral reef swims. And not just be a voice for the polar regions, but also for the coral reefs and all the beautiful wildlife that lives there.

He concluded his remarks by saying that every generation has the opportunity to change the world, to make it more sustainable and fairer: “We have to be that generation”.

To save the seas, the UN’s ocean boss said we need to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, and the best way to do that is to create these large marine protected areas like the national parks, but in the sea.

He also said the world needs to drastically reduce carbon emissions and people need to educate themselves: “What I mean by that is that we (must) learn about the environment. We (must) understand the impact we have on the planet. It’s more than awareness.

Dora W. Clawson