“The Longest Swim is an exciting opportunity to highlight the deep connection we all have with the ocean – and the importance to protect and cherish it. Fins crossed for a safe crossing!” -Dr. Sylvia Earle
Ben Lecomte and his team are preparing for a world-record swimming attempt to better understand and protect the ocean. The challenge? Swimming 8 hours a day for 6 months to cross the 5,500 miles from Tokyo to San Francisco! No stranger to crossing the ocean, he was the first man to swim across the Atlantic from Boston (USA) to Quiberon (France) without a kickboard, as a tribute to his father and to support cancer research in 1998. He remarks, “I’m not an Olympic swimmer; I’m an adventurer who likes to swim.”
In this expedition, Ben will swim in the name of science and ocean protection. The Longest Swim will be the first citizen science expedition of its kind where valuable data on the ocean and human body for 8 research projects will be collected. From plastic pollution to space exploration, and nuclear disasters to heart health, The Longest Swim will be a unique opportunity to collect data and learn more about the oceans and human body in extreme conditions. James Scott, Skipper and Expedition Manager states,
“No one has ever tried to go so far so slowly. There are very few “firsts” left in this world, and this six-month unsupported expedition is a rare chance to be a core part of one of those.”
Ben will be escorted by the support sailboat Discoverer and her nine crew members. After a day of swimming, he will come on board to eat and get some rest. The crew will mark his GPS location when he breaks for the day and will bring him to that exact same spot in the Pacific Ocean the next morning, one mile at a time.
Under the direction of researchers from 13 scientific institutions, including NASA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Ben and his crew will collect oceanographic and medical data throughout the Swim, helping to build datasets of unprecedented scope. Dr. Erik Zettler from NIOZ Royal Nether Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research & Utrecht University explains, “The Longest Swim is a unique opportunity to better share our scientific results and our message to the public, but also to collect very valuable samples for our research.”
There are a number of questions the team is trying to better answer on the journey. For instance, how is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch affecting life in the ocean and on land? Plastic debris is found throughout the world’s oceans, reaching concentrations of more than 1 million microplastic pieces per square kilometer in some regions, like the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” that Ben and his convoy will be crossing during The Longest Swim. By examining particles the crew will collect between Tokyo and San Francisco, researchers will learn more about how long they’ve been in the ocean and what mechanisms created them. Scientists will also study the microbes associated with this debris and how they affect a variety of oceanic processes, as well as their potential to spread disease.
Secondly, the team is eager to understand where the contaminants of the Fukushima disaster went on to. Scientists estimate that most of the contaminants released from Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 wound up in the ocean, where they were diluted and transported westward. Ben will follow a similar track during his swim thanks to a wearable “RadBand” sampling device where data on how far and how fast these contaminants are moving, as well as their concentration across the Pacific Ocean, will be collected.
Other questions include: how is human activity changing the properties of the Pacific Ocean? Can extreme exercise hurt the heart? And how does low gravity affect bones and vision?
Follow the Journey!
Ben and his crew won’t be out there alone! They intend on bringing their followers to the middle of the Pacific Ocean for the six-month journey. Every day, they will share their adventure with videos, photos, and on their online logbook You can follow their progress with a live GPS tracker, and directly interact with the team through social media.
After few months of preparations and testing in California this summer, Discoverer, and the crew will head to Japan via Hawaï in autumn. Once in Tokyo, they will get ready to launch the swim at the beginning of the next weather window: Spring 2018.