By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Despite having to turn back after a series of typhoons across the Pacific this summer, Ben Lecomte is nearly 1,000 nautical miles into his bid to become the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean.
The Frenchman, who set off from Japan on June 5, is expected on Wednesday to reach the 1,000 nautical mile (1,852km) mark – about a fifth of the way across the world’s largest expanse of water.
Lecomte, who swam 3,229 nautical miles (5,980km) across the Atlantic Ocean in 1998, is in the water for eight hours every day and aims to cover 50km of the 9,100km to San Francisco with every swim.
The 51-year-old and his crew had originally planned on making the trip in a little over six months but were forced to turn back in late July because of a string of fierce typhoons that tore through the Pacific.
They had to spend 20 days back at base in Yokohama before Lecomte re-started his epic journey at the precise point at which he was forced to postpone the trip.
“Of course, it is the kind of call you never want to make, but the frustration didn’t last, there is not much you can do about the weather,” Lecomte told Reuters via email on Tuesday.
“I try to focus on what I can control, spread the message on the state of our ocean, and prepare for my next swim session.”
Raising awareness of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is a key driver to Lecomte’s mission to complete this arduous and dangerous journey.
More than 27 different scientific organisations, some medical and some oceanographic, will be benefiting from the data gathered during the expedition.
Much of the research will focus on plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean, specifically the build-up of ‘plastic smog’ caused by billions of pieces of microplastic.
There is increasing concern among scientists about the effect of pervasive plastic pollution on marine ecosystems.
“I never expected to find that much plastic, every single day I find it on my way: plastic sheets, packaging, single use items, fishing gear,” said Lecomte, who says his team have found over 1,300 pieces of floating plastic debris.
“Even worse is the invisible threat of microplastic under the surface. We have collected over four fragments per minute by towing with our special net.“
Lecomte’s team have met turtles, whales and dolphins on route as well as a mako shark who followed them for two days.
“The guy was just curious, he came to check on me and swam away,” the endurance swimmer recalled.
“The plastic is our only enemy here, and a serious threat to all our new friends.”
Lecomte the amount of plastic pollution he sees is motivation enough to reach his final destination on the California coast of the United States.
“No matter how confident I am, there are a lot of parameters that we cannot control on such a long journey: weather, technical failure, injuries,” he warned.
“More important than the destination, what motivates me every day, especially after witnessing all the damage we do to the ocean and the life around us, is to fulfil the purpose of my mission: raising awareness on plastic pollution.
“For the rest, I just keep swimming.”
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Nick Mulvenney)