In Dubai, three rowers want to brave the Arctic to denounce marine pollution: News

At an indoor swimming pool in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, three rowers train on artificial waves as they wait to brave the Arctic Ocean on an expedition to raise awareness about marine pollution.

The expats, two Britons and an Irishwoman, are preparing to go from one extreme to the other: from the summer heat of the Gulf country where they live, to the freezing temperatures of one of the regions of the world most affected by climate change, to become the first to attempt the crossing as a threesome, and with a woman on board.

“By undertaking this expedition, breaking records and raising awareness, we can (…) inspire students, business leaders and others to be agents of the change they want to see,” says team leader Toby Gregory.

“The greatest danger to our planet is that everyone thinks that someone else will save it,” he adds.

This 46-year-old man, a communications consultant for princely families, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in 2023 and returned overwhelmed.

“I saw a lot more plastic than I ever imagined,” he says. According to the UN, plastic makes up 85% of marine debris.

He then founded The Plastic Pledge, a program aimed at raising awareness of this issue among up to a million schoolchildren in different countries, and launched the “Arctic Challenge” in partnership with the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) campaign to combat marine pollution, Clean Seas.

With his companions Andrew Saville, 39, and Orla Dempsey, 30, he will embark at the end of July on an eight-metre boat flying the Emirati flag, without sails or engines, for a 20 to 25 day journey.

Using the strength of their arms, the three rowers will cross at least 1,500 kilometres, taking turns every two hours, from Tromsø, Norway, to Longyearbyen, the capital of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, a region that is warming three times faster than the global average.

The journey is about 1,000 km in a straight line, but they will take a winding route depending on the tides, currents and storms.

By setting off at this time of year, when the sun shines continuously in the polar region, they hope to maximise the use of the solar panels installed on the boat.

– Between 0 and 10 degrees –

To prepare for the challenge, the team trained outdoors for nearly two months, but Dubai’s scorching summer forced them to continue training indoors.

That day at the Dynamic Advanced Training Centre, rowers put themselves in a storm situation, facing waves, rain, thunder and even artificial lightning.

“The most important thing for us is to get used to the equipment we’re going to be wearing,” says Andrew Saville, who serves as operations manager at Dubai Port.

It is more difficult, he concedes, to prepare for temperatures expected to be between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius in the Arctic, when the thermometer reads more than 40 degrees outside.

But the trio can still count on one of the extravagances of the wealthy, air-conditioned emirate: Ski Dubai, an indoor resort in the middle of a shopping mall.

“We are fortunate to have the facilities to train,” says Orla Dempsey.

In 2021, this former sports teacher who moved to the field of digital education was one of three members of the women’s team that broke the record for rowing across the Pacific Ocean, from San Francisco to Hawaii, in the United States.

Today, she wants to become the first woman to take on the Arctic Ocean challenge. “The most important thing is that I won’t be the last, it will pave the way for others,” she hopes.

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