Sportsman swims Baltic for global cause

  • 2007-07-25
  • By Kimberly Kweder

WATER'S THAT WAY: With the help of a protective suit, former triathalete Vidmantas Urbonas is braving the chilly Baltic waters as he makes his 200-kilometer trek from Sweden to Latvia.

VILNIUS - Former Lithuanian triathlete Vidmantas Urbonas is breaking waves across the Baltic Sea by enduring a record-breaking swim from Sweden to Latvia.

The world-champion sportsman departed from the Swedish city of Kalmar July 23, heading for the island of Gotland, from where he will set off on a 145-kilometer swim to the port of Pavilosta, Latvia, his finishing mark. If Urbonas completes the 200-kilometer distance, he will set a world record for swimming in open waters.
Urbonas is undertaking the eight-day mission in order to fight global warming and raise awareness of the escalating pollution in the region.

"I want everyone to know about the pollution in the Baltic Sea. We all have a responsibility for the sea and to keep it clean for future generations," Urbonas was quoted in Sweden's Web site.
In order to overcome the problems and dangers of the cool Baltic waters and high winds, the sportsman organized special safety precautions and wears a protective suit to keep himself warm, according to wire reports.
It is not the first time Urbonas has organized an ecological campaign. He swam a 460-kilometer stretch of the Nemunas River from the Belarus border to Rusne in eight days back in July 1999 as part of a pro-environment move. He also attempted a crossing of the English Channel in 2006, which was canceled due to high winds.
Environmental groups and experts from research institutions are concerned about the damaging effects to the Baltic Sea's environment caused by human development through the centuries.

Algirdas Stankevicius, Director of the Center of Marine Research in Klaipeda, told The Baltic Times that the narrow and shallow Danish Straits slow water circulation from the North Sea, which creates a special  geological problem  in that it keeps the polution concentrated within the Baltic Sea's boundries. 
Stankevicius said the pollution in the sea was from "factories, waste water, air, dumped chemical weapons, and intensive fisheries on board ships."

Urbonas' mission echoes another that made headlines earlier this month. Lewis Gordon Pugh, a Briton, plunged into the Artic waters of the North Pole on July 15 for a 1-kilometer swim to stir concern for the damaging effects of global warming on ice caps.