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One Man's 1,000-Mile Atlantic Swim Calls Out CO2's Impact on Oceans

By Stacy Morford

Jun 21, 2009
Christopher Swain

How far would you go to ensure that your generation leaves behind a healthier planet for your kids?

One Massachusetts dad swam through factory sludge, shipping pollution and sewage to draw attention to the damage human activity is doing to the nation's waterways.

Now, he's braving the Atlantic on a 1,000-mile coastal swim and water testing tour to call out the impact of climate change on the world's oceans. At 40, Christopher Swain's inspiration is this simple:

“I want my daughters to grow up in a healthy world.”

If Swain’s name sounds familiar it's because he’s been for the past decade to make some of the nation’s best known waterways swimmable and drinkable again.

In 2003, he swam the entire 1,243-mile length of the , from the chilly headwaters, where elementary school children toasted his adventure with pure water from the river’s origin, past more than a dozen dams and through the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to the Pacific Ocean. The following year, he swam , the , and the , where he had to contend with sewage and factory pollution. Swain was the only one ingesting the water there, and not intentionally.

, Swain’s taking on the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, he’s conducting scientific experiments on ocean acidity – and blogging the results and details of his swimming adventures – to help more than 2,000 teachers and their students learn about climate change, ocean health and what can be done to improve it.

As he made his way across Boston Harbor last week, 35 schoolchildren met him at the shore of Spectacle Island (a landfill-turned-park) and helped him test the acidity of the water there. Swain logs the results on a to help students track climate change through the lens of the ocean.

He has found, since first pulling on his wetsuit at Marblehead, Mass., in April, bound for Washington, D.C., that in the Atlantic Ocean,

“The pH is too low and the amount of plastics bags and jellyfish is too high." ("Imagine living 200 years as a sea turtle and then chocking on a plastic Target bag!" he says.)

“In a small way, every single break, I’m getting reminded that the ocean is absorbing man-made carbon dioxide."

Ocean Acidity

The ocean of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere. As increasing amounts of CO2 dissolves, the water’s acidity rises.

Around the start of the industrial revolution, ocean surface water pH averaged (pure water has a pH of 7, battery acid is 0). Since then, the oceans' acidity has increased by about . The pH has dropped by about 0.1, and the anticipates that if human-caused CO2 continues to accelerate at its current pace, that pH will fall an additional 0.3 to 0.4 by the end of this century.

Full respect for what

Full respect for what Christopher is doing. And to plant this seed of knowledge in youth can only improve the future.

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