Please enjoy this guest post from South African endurance swimmer, Sarah Ferguson. She is the founder of Breathe Conservation and is one of our global Ambassadors. In March 2019, she will attempt to become the first person ever to swim the perimeter of iconic Easter Island. To donate and learn more, click HERE. 

A World Record Attempt to Swim Around Easter Island

One of the reasons I swim is to create awareness about the devastating and global effect of plastic pollution. When I first started my journey into open water swimming I started with the intention and desire to swim for something bigger than myself.

My primary driving force behind my swimming is to honour God with the talent he has gifted me with. I love water and have always loved swimming. When I finally discovered ocean swimming in 2011 I discovered a freedom that comes with open water swimming that I have never experienced before.

Acting out of obedience to what I felt God telling me to do, I retired from competitive swimming in 2009 despite the fact that I did not feel that I had reached my full potential as an athlete. I reluctantly listened and have been blown away with what has subsequently unfolded.

I always had a strong sense that my career as an athlete was not yet over, I just had no idea what that might mean.

Sarah Ferguson

Sarah Ferguson

Through a 2-4 year journey, I explored the world and my identity, and with the help of some incredible people in my life and a sports psychologist, I decided it was time to pick up my goggles again.

In dealing with my new identity and figuring out a clear direction for my focus and talents, I discovered ocean swimming, and that I was, surprisingly, pretty good at it too. I loved it and realised that this was my chance to expand on my athletic career.

My dream to swim for something bigger started in Hawaii, which is why my first ocean swim of any significance was across the Ka’iwi channel in Hawaii. The Ka’iwi channel swim was a stepping stone for me. It was another massive leap of obedience into what I felt God calling me to do. I had no idea what was next, but this swim changed the course of my life into a roller coaster journey that is still unfolding before my eyes. 

An incredible team of people accompanied me in the build up to Hawaii, as well as during and after the swim. Some people struggled to see how this swim would help create awareness of plastic pollution. Many asked, ‘How does swimming in remote, stunning, tropical waters on the other side of the world correlate to a message that will reduce our consumer behaviour?

To be honest, I did not really know either, I was just a vessel and taking the first step. My non-profit company, Breathe was founded after the swim and the successful completion of that swim gave me a platform and a voice to speak to audiences I would never had the opportunity to do so if I had not swum that channel.

A friend met with me after the swim and saw the potential of having some real backing and support behind me and the team going forward to really make an impact. He said it is all very well to swim in Hawaii where it is seemingly pristine, but if you really want to make an impact, why not find the filthiest place in the world, one that is the most affected by plastic pollution and swim there?

Easter Island Moai statue

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Moai statue

We started researching and that is how we ‘stumbled’ across Easter Island. I had originally wanted to swim around the Pitcairn Islands (they have been shown to have the highest concentration of micro plastics in the world) but through a series of conversations realised that a swim of that nature would be really challenging with absolutely no connection to the island.

I was introduced to Mark Minneboo from Plastic Oceans Chile and through a series of Skype calls and e-mails we connected and I flew over to meet him and his colleague Camilla in October last year. I wanted to be sure that we could logistically make this swim happen in 6 months – a massive undertaking.

Mark and Camilla and the Plastic Oceans team in the USA have been working tirelessly behind the scenes organising permits and boat captains, kayaks, sponsorship and accommodation which have all been a massive help in reducing the pressure on me, allowing me to focus on my training and preparation for the swim.

This swim has only ever been attempted once and no one has ever successfully circumnavigated Easter Island.

Despite the statistics, I have chosen to go through with this swim for a few reasons: 

  1. It has never been done before – as a pioneer I like the challenge of forging a path and believe it gives me more of a voice reaching a wider audience to be able to speak out about the global crisis we are currently facing.
  2. As one of the world’s most remote islands and a world heritage site, Easter Island will attract a lot of press. Despite being so remote, the fact that it is so heavily affected by plastic pollution is devastating. It will help to show the world that our behaviour is not limited to where we live – it effects even the most remote islands and the deepest part of the ocean.
  3. Logistical support. This would never be possible without local knowledge, and Camilla and Mark have been essential in this regard. There is so much that goes into a swim like this behind the scenes from organising permits to get permission, to safety protocol, food, boats etc.
  4. I love a challenge. For me to sacrifice my salary and 3-5 hours a day of my time to train for something, it not only has to be worth it, but it also has to be new and fresh, and has to help illustrate the very reason I swim. Being so badly affected by plastic pollution, Easter Island certainly ticks that box and being so challenging and so big and scary, I have to trust in the calling I believe God has placed on my life that He will help make it all possible.

There is a very real possibility of not successfully completing the swim for a number of reasons, but for me, either way it goes, I trust that God sees the bigger picture and the very fact that we are attempting such a swim, is a success in itself.