Environmental Stewardship and Marathon Swimming

evmoevmo Admin
edited August 2013 in General Discussion
Some of you may have seen the inspirational video Trent Grimsey posted recently about his world record English Channel swim:



This past weekend while gathered at @Jamie's swim camp at Lake Tahoe, a few of us noticed a decidedly less-inspirational aspect of Trent's swim: him ditching a plastic cup into the ocean. Skip to 3:23 for the clip in question.

image

It was subsequently confirmed by knowledgeable sources that these were not biodegradable cups, and they were not retrieved by his boat crew. (Considering the direction of Trent's toss - away from the boat - this likely would have been quite disruptive to the record attempt.) Assuming 20-minute feed cycles, that's at least 20 plastic cups lost at sea for a 6 hr 55 min swim -- which is actually a conservative estimate, given Donal's report of a mid-swim switch to 15-minute, and then 17.5-minute cycles.

I want to be very clear that this is NOT meant as an attack on Trent personally - though I'd love to hear his perspective. Neither is it an attack on his crew, @loneswimmer and @owenswims93, who were merely following the plan formulated by their swimmer and boat pilot.

Rather, it's an earnest discussion of our obligations as marathon swimmers to be responsible stewards of the environment - of the waters we swim in. It may be awkward that the Forum honored Mr. Grimsey as our our Male Solo Swim of the Year in 2012, and that a Forum co-founder was on his crew. However, I don't believe these are valid reasons for suppressing discussion of this issue.

What do you think?

Some questions off the top of my head:

- Does a swim's status as a "record attempt" justify pollution of the ocean?

- Does the fact that past swimmers ditched their cups justify present swimmers polluting the ocean?

- Does the fact that there is lots of trash in the English Channel justify adding to that trash?

- If intentional littering of the ocean is not justifiable, should marathon swimming governing bodies have formalized policy statements to this effect?

- Does the fact that many English Channel swimmers fly thousands of miles to attempt their swim - with resulting carbon footprint - justify subsequent environmental pollution?
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Comments

  • I also posted about this on Facebook. This particular post is publicly accessible:

    https://www.facebook.com/evmor/posts/10100099754323342
  • david_barradavid_barra Charter Member
    Simple.
    No
    No
    No
    Yes.... NYC Swim does
    Carbon trading and offsetting is confusing to most people (myself included). My business installed a 45kw PV system that went live on 3/1/11. The system generates a surplus to what we use and there is a program that gives us a visual idea of the benefits in “miles not driven” or “trees planted”. Some travel services offer carbon offset options, I would like to see our sport lead the way here. I’ll be looking into it this off-season.
    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
  • NiekNiek Member
    No
    No
    No
    Yes
    No
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • AquaRobAquaRob Charter Member
    Purposefully throwing your trash in the ocean is a dick move, I don't care who you are or how fast you're going.

    My answers run no, no. no, yes, and no as well
  • I am also wondering if it is OK to hand someone a drink (like in Trent's video) as this would seem to go very close to touching your support crew and thus disqualifying yourself from the swim. It looks like a much better way to feed but am not sure if it is legal.
  • If the cups were not biodegradable and his support crew did not retrieve them, it is not cool.....record or not. I think all governing marathon swim organizations should adopt green policies. In my opinion, if a swimmer is caught "intentionally" littering during a marathon swim, the observer should give one warning and then disqualify the swimmer for repeated behavior.

    If I were Trent, it could be face saving move if he were to spend an afternoon picking up trash on the beach in Dover
  • KarenTKarenT Charter Member
    I've always been puzzled about the relative absence of environmental concerns within marathon swimming (with some notable exceptions) - it seems ripe for something akin to Surfers Against Sewerage. I have some very off-the-top-of-my-head theories about why this is which I'll save for a pub conversation one day. But it seems to me that however complicated environmental issues are, we shouldn't let ourselves be blinded by complexity in the face of a small and obvious step - just don't drop litter when we swim. I'm not a big fan of the use of rules and regulations to define the sport, but I'd be all for incorporating a 'no deliberate littering' rule into swim regulations.
  • NiekNiek Member
    edited August 2013
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • Agree with the responses above... and I thought it was a general thing that only biodegradable material is left from your swim (spilled feed, peeing, etc...). Most of the shorter swims I've done have had hard rules against littering (NYCSWIM comes to mind). Also, can I ask what's more efficient about a cup that you toss vs. a small bottle you drink from attached to a rope? I've been practicing 30 min. feeds with bottles on ropes that I grab from the water, drink in 20 seconds, and go... is it really saving that much time? Isn't it better not to potentially spill your feed?
  • NiekNiek Member
    The crazy thing with an official race is that with the FINA rules only a feeding pole is allowed.
    Not even a rope between the pole and bottle.
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • LeadhyenaLeadhyena Member
    edited August 2013
    Caitlin had a great quote above, I'm repeating here:

    Perhaps I'm an idealist, but I think as a (relatively nascent) community of athletes for whom water quality is extremely important/necessary, we are in a unique position to raise awareness of environmental concerns. What if marathon swimmers became known not only for our (relatively) self-serving feats of endurance, but as a community of environmental advocates?

    Maybe this should be broken down into another thread, but... how does someone go about figuring out all the carbon offsets for a channel swim? I'd hate to think I was contributing to the problem. One of the things I tell all my friends that ask me about open water swimming is that it is freaky how incontrovertible it is that the oceans are getting warmer year over year, and it's not just cold water acclimation. All of my swims are getting warmer. This year I had to go to Boston to get in cold water swims under 70F.

    Becoming an advocate is one thing; eating my own dog food is another. What's the best way to proceed? Which charities are actually helping, and which are questionable? Is it worth it to buy carbon offsets? In short, how do I help?
  • NiekNiek Member
    imageDonate to the WWF

    They protect the animals (including us) by buying nature preserves.
    A lot off those preserves include trees that neutralize your carbon footprint.
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer Admin
    edited August 2013
    Well as one of the crew .... Did we notice it? Yes. Was there anything Owen & I could do to retrieve them? No, not given the circumstances, contrary to what some of you may assert. Did we know the plan beforehand? No. I can even recall earlier in the week advising the team that my retractable dog-leash idea which I used myself as crew just the previous day on Viking Princess works really well.

    With average feed times of about 4 secs and the high aft deck where I spent most of the time on Gallivant, (to take the photos and video), I can say that Owen & I certainly had no way to retrieving them from the water and we were late additions to the crew. Don't read this as anything other than a statement of fact. I'm neither justifying it nor abdicating responsibility.

    Pertaining to what @evmo says, I don't understand that there might be a perception that there's any attempted suppression of the incident. I certainly didn't hide the video I shot, it's been available for 11 months, nor do I have any wish to suppress any discussion.

    Any of you reading my blog or knowing me would know that's not my way. Every blog post or otherwise I've written for the last few years has been about personal transparency, about trying to share my average understanding of open water swimming. I would also say that no subject that I've encountered in the past few years has made me question more, whether everything I've tried to write or help people with, has been a waste, (clarification: ...than the reaction to this subject and my personal involvement).

    I also didn't feel in the past few days like jumping into the witchhunting flamewar or the feeding frenzy that the Channel Chat group has become. No-one's interests are served by "sides" hurling invective at each other, and I'd prefer to have nothing to do with that argument, as it polarises each side.

    In this thread we can see attempts to blame crew, and also even question the legality of Trent's swim...again (seriously?). This argument hasn't been about generalities as @evmo asserted but about specifics; Trent and crew.

    I can only speak for my own interests in the environmental area, and say this isn't the case and I assert that I take all environmental precautions that I justifiably can, not just in my swimming but in the rest of my life and while it may not be a subject I've written much on, that doesn't mean it doesn't deeply inform my swimming ethos. Time spent in, on and around the sea led me to a Master's (Post-Graduate) research-based environmental degree and even once I was the subject of media lies by local politicians because I was addressing a marine pollution issue publicly, which led the degree.( I even plant trees for carbon-offsetting). I'm only mentioning that in lieu of the general "I love the environment" hand-waving & I'm really not comfortable doing even this and feel angry that you can all make assertions that force me to so do. I really didn't want to get involved, but I'm replying because I won't allow people to denigrate me, nor incorrectly categorise me as anti-environment, based on some Facebook Like campaign or Chat Group rabble-rousing, in the absence of actual facts or actually doing something about the subject.

    I think some of @evmo's questions above are leading but I agree that environmental regulations could be added to any of the Association regulations. Regulations must have both measurement, enforcement and punitive specifications to be utilitarian.

    The degeneration of this subject on the Channel chat group, on both sides, hasn't served the subject or many of those involved well. It certainly can't be characterised as a useful discussion, and where I see people trying to be reasonable, on either side, some are still being provoked by the "other side".

    Environmental problems can generally only be effectively addressed where there is stakeholder buy-in. Some of us telling others what and why they have to care about is part of why the climate change issue seems so intractable. The way to effect environmental change is to build majority consensus.

    I'm going to finish this with a further disagreement with @evmo: I don't feel in the slightest bit awkward about my place on Trent's crew, or nominating Trent for the inaugural awards, nor that he won.

    You have no idea how hard I had to resist the urge to curse in this post.
  • @leadhyena: That's exactly something to wrestle with. A three person round trip, swimmer plus 2 crew, from Boston to London (for example) results in about 3.75 metric tonnes of carbon, about 25% of the entire annual carbon footprint of an average American. Excluding rental car, carbon cost of accommodation (higher than domestic living), marine etc, marine fuel and leakage, it's all pretty significant.


    This of course applies pro rata to any travel/swim/life. Carbon footprints vary widely by country. Ireland is about 9 tonnes of CO2, the UK is under 8, the USA is about 18. The US used to be the worst, but is now only the second worst after being overtaken by China since 2008, according to US figures. A lot of this has to do with average engine size, cost of fuel, vehicle occupancy and availability and utilization of public transport. Use of heating and air conditioning is also important. China is getting worse faster because of growing power demand and use of brown coal stations. In the US it's personal consumption, in China it's societal.

    @Niek, I've planted my own trees to offset. I settled on willow, as being fast growing, easy to plant, and alder, native to where I live, and both are location appropriate.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013
    Thanks, @loneswimmer.

    Cross-posting my comment from the chat group:
    Can we please try to depersonalize this? This is not about one swim, or one swimmer. It is irrelevant whether the swim lasted 6:55 or 16:55. Due to his preternatural speed and record-potential, Trent happened to have his swim filmed and posted to YouTube. This is about our community, our expectations of future channel aspirants, our collective responsibilities to the waters we swim in.
  • Thanks @loneswimmer. I agree that the squabbling about that particular swim has been ugly, but if the start of the discussion ended up starting a really good conversation about conservation that could motivate others to take action, among swimmers who as Caitlin said "are in a unique position to raise awareness of environmental concerns", then maybe some good has come of it. If anything, this discussion got me to remember that swims have gotten warmer, more populated by invasive species like jellyfish, more capable of producing tremendous and terrible storms, unfortunately more radioactive and polluted, and that it's not any particular person at fault, but essentially our fault as a species.

    Sidenote: It's not the only sport, nor the most offensive, with regards to littering. Let's talk about the disgusting nature that is a water station on a marathon route. In that situation it's even a safety issue; if you're far enough back in the pack, you will have a hard time not slipping on a water cup or empty Gu packet. The littering is ridiculous, as there are trashcans nearby, and runners will still miss them.
  • NiekNiek Member

    @Niek, I've planted my own trees to offset. I settled on willow, as being fast growing, easy to plant, and alder, native to where I live, and both are location appropriate.

    @loneswimmer I did say it's the only way but it's one of the possible ways people can compensate if they don't know how else.
    I personally donate to 'Natuurmonumenten Nederland' who preserves nature here in the Netherlands.
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • My personal opinion, which probably sounds apathetic to some: it happened. It's too late to clean up what happened. With that said, it's good that it's coming to light, although crucifying the swim won't do any good. The best thing is to put attention on the incident more than the people, learn from it, promote some awareness, and move forward from there.
  • Many Lakes and Waterways in the US that host marathon swimmers are in sensitive ecological areas. Good environmental stewardship of those areas would surely involve obeying the regulations for disposal of human waste. In the Lake Tahoe area I believe that involves being 200ft away from any water source...

    Hey @evmo how was the swim camp this past weekend? I hear Lake Tahoe is beautiful at this time of year...

    [Ok I'm being a little bit silly here - I'm myself am guilty of poor environmental stewardship in this particular respect in Lake Tahoe, and personally would love to attend @Jamie 's swim camp one of these years.]

    It does seem though that the most positive thing here would be to raise awareness of the ways we can all be better about our inevitable impact on the environment. The very cool corn based biodegradable plastic cups that *seem* like they would have rendered this particular concern moot have only really surfaced in the last few years. Maybe whoever was getting the supplies for Trent didn't know of them, or maybe they just weren't easily sourced in Dover.

    Given how much air travel do for work, I hate to think of my own person carbon footprint on an annual basis... certainly worth investigating ways to offset that with either purchases or actions...
    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013
    None of us is perfect. Few of us can afford to have a neutral carbon footprint.

    There are a few very simple behaviors which cost little or nothing, in either time or money, so that we don't further contribute to the problem in unnecessary and egregious ways. As marathon swimmers, one of these behaviors is not littering our feed cups into the water. This is so simple, I can hardly even believe it is controversial.

    Pertaining to what @evmo says, I don't understand that there might be a perception that there's any attempted suppression of the incident. I certainly didn't hide the video I shot, it's been available for 11 months, nor do I have any wish to suppress any discussion.

    I don't believe Donal suppressed discussion, not in the least. I was referring to the collective response on the Channel Swimmers chat group.

    Possibly my efforts here will get me blacklisted from any future EC attempt. If that's the case, so be it.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013

    Yes.... NYC Swim does

    From nycswim.org:

    Race Rule IV: Pollution - MIMS 2013
    The swimmer shall be disqualified if the swimmer or his or her crew members pollute the waterways with cups, trash or other debris before, during or after the competition.


    Bravo to Morty. I'd love to see other swim organizers adopt a similar policy.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013
    The Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association are pleased to announce that we are following NYC Swim's forward-thinking leadership and have added the following to our General Swim Rules, to be read aloud before every channel swim under our sanction:

    The swimmer or crew may not intentionally pollute the ocean with trash or debris (including but not limited to feed cups and gel packs) at any point before, during, or after the swim, from dock to dock.

    http://santabarbarachannelswim.org/rules.html
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013
    We regret the oversight in our previous set of rules. However, it didn't occur to any of us that open water swimmers would actually intentionally trash the environment they swim in.
  • evmo said:


    The swimmer or crew may not intentionally pollute the ocean with trash or debris (including but not limited to feed cups and gel packs) at any point before, during, or after the swim, from dock to dock.

    Just curious would biodegradable debris get a pass under SBCSA rules?
    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013
    Interesting question, @dc_in_sf. I think the rule is as specific as it needs to be.

    Personally I would not want to threaten a swimmer with a DQ for pooping in the ocean, dumping coffee, or even a banana peel. In other words, organic matter that breaks up quickly. In the case of biodegradable cups, I would prefer that the swimmer use cups or bottles that are tied to an escort vessel - especially given kayaks are allowed on SBCSA swims.

    What do others think?
  • david_barradavid_barra Charter Member
    evmo said:

    Yes.... NYC Swim does

    From nycswim.org:

    Race Rule IV: Pollution - MIMS 2013
    The swimmer shall be disqualified if the swimmer or his or her crew members pollute the waterways with cups, trash or other debris before, during or after the competition.


    Bravo to Morty. I'd love to see other swim organizers adopt a similar policy.
    Since the English Channel is the grand-daddy of marathon swims, I thought it would be pretty easy to model the rules for 8 Bridges "as per EC conduct and attire"... but after a conversation with Morty, it became clear that there are some issues that are less than clear by that definition.

    I am disturbed by some of the comments on the channel swimmers forum that suggest conduct during a channel swim shouldn't matter because getting there requires burning fossil fuels.... talk about non sequitur
    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013

    Since the English Channel is the grand-daddy of marathon swims, I thought it would be pretty easy to model the rules for 8 Bridges "as per EC conduct and attire"... but after a conversation with Morty, it became clear that there are some issues that are less than clear by that definition.

    You are welcome to borrow the SBCSA's rulebook, either verbatim or with modifications appropriate to your event.

    http://santabarbarachannelswim.org/rules.html

    The SBCSA Board and I spent considerable time over the winter revising & re-organizing the rules for clarity, and to fit as closely as possible with our interpretation of the spirit of marathon swimming.

    Unlike some, we are willing to take strong, public stands on issues we feel are important to the sport. Unlike some, we are willing to close loopholes that vaguer rulebooks implicitly allow - for example, our prohibition of drafting, added earlier this year.

    Already, the SBCSA rulebook has been adopted by the Kingdom Swim, and by Andrew Malinak on his recent solo attempt of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • Where would the SBCSA be without the inspiration of Trent's swim??
  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    Wow. Can't even read the channel swimmers google group anymore. Too many "wannabes" going back and forth.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013
    bruck said:

    Where would the SBCSA be without the inspiration of Trent's swim??

    We are grateful that this swim, due to its notoriety and extensive documentation by @loneswimmer, revealed a couple of loopholes in the system that have been gamed by elite swimmers long before Trent.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013
    I had heard this several weeks ago, so I don't think it's related to this thread. Not sure if that's what @Munatones meant to imply.

    http://dailynews.openwaterswimming.com/2013/08/he-had-great-run-trent-grimsey-retires.html?m=1

    Interesting quote, though:

    "I have absolutely no regrets."
  • NiekNiek Member
    edited August 2013
    Yes interesting if you use the whole quote:
    "Over the past eight years I have been fortunate enough to travel the world competing in the sport I love. I have met some amazing people and made friends that I’ll have for life. I have absolutely no regrets"
    and not only pull a small piece of it out of context to make your point
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013
    @Niek, @loneswimmer, @timsroot: the linked article isn't very long. Maybe you'd prefer to copy and paste the entire thing, to make absolutely clear nothing is taken out of context?

    Actually, the phrase "absolutely no regrets" seems even stranger when read in context. In my understanding of vernacular English, "no regrets" is typically used to affirm that some life experience was worthwhile, in spite of some negative aspects of it. Given the context - world travel, amazing people & friends, world records - why would he regret anything, such that he'd need to say, "No regrets?"

    I hope that in his new business venture (which will benefit from the fame and renown of his English Channel record), he will communicate to his clients the importance of being responsible citizens of the ocean.
  • @evmo - I wonder how much he is even aware of this controversy. And I can think of plenty of things that might potentially fall under regrets. I love to swim, and I love the feeling of accomplishment that I get when I complete a long swim, but I don't really enjoy getting up as early as I have to in order to achieve those goals, and I know my wife would prefer I be home more mornings. Do I regret those sacrifices? Most days, no. But, there are plenty of things that could potentially be lumped into the regrets column even if one does achieve great successes.
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf Member
    edited August 2013
    evmo said:

    Actually, the phrase "absolutely no regrets" seems even stranger when read in context. In my understanding of vernacular English, "no regrets" is typically used to affirm that some life experience was worthwhile, in spite of some negative aspects of it. Given the context - world travel, amazing people & friends, world records - why would he regret anything, such that he'd need to say, "No regrets?"

    I'd have to imagine that Trent has put in an absolute godawful amount of training to be able to compete at the level he has, and the financial rewards of swimming are very limited unless your name is Phelps or Thorpe, so it would seem (to me at least) not unfair to attribute a some level of sacrifice to his swimming endeavours.

    Edit: Tim's comment went in while I was writing this so apologies for basically duplicating his thoughts.
    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited August 2013
    Limited financial rewards indeed, but the sweet plaque he got must have some resale value at least?!

    Seriously, though, that's a fair interpretation, @dc_in_sf. Thanks for keeping me honest.
  • NiekNiek Member
    edited August 2013
    No regrets to all the work he had to put into it. It's not all talent.
    The rewards made it worth while.

    And as I've written before.
    - During FINA Grand Prixs and Marathons one isn't allowed cups and bottles on a rope.
    So how do you expect Trent to act differently during his record Channel swim. He's conditioned to drink and discard the cup as fast as possible.
    - And his swimming on the bow wave was just magnificent. He was fast enough to make use off the bow wave and while swimming that way he could even speed up more. It was and is not forbidden by the rules and all those crying about it are jealous that their technique and/or speed won't allow them to do the same.
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • Niek said:

    It was and is not forbidden by the rules

    Drafting isn't forbidden by CSA or CS&PF rules, so personally, I don't fault any swimmer who takes advantage of it. My wish is that this rules loophole is closed - and that's why I moved for the organization I serve, the SBCSA, to prohibit it.
    Niek said:

    and all those crying about it are jealous that their technique and/or speed won't allow them to do the same.

    That's just a completely bogus argument.
  • Unfortunate to hear about his retirement, especially at such a young age. Late last year, he was discussing his goals for the 2013 World Championships, a possible double EC crossing, and the 2016 Olympics. Wouldn't be surprised to see him return.
    Lactate is for wimps.
  • NiekNiek Member
    He's still going for the double EC crossing.
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • PmbPmb Member
    edited August 2013
    Although I am generally against pollution, I must admit I have a hard time figuring out why I should care about this specific case... I know a lot of people who is taking their cars instead of their bicycle each and every day, even though some of them would actually travel faster by taking their bikes. I know people warming their houses to 25 degC all year. And so on and so forth. Each and every one of these cases pollutes more in one day (admitted, this is just me guessing, but you get the point) than he did on his record breaking swim. Should we care? Yes, probably. But honestly I think that driving for half an hour to get to a beach for a swim is much more problematic, unless of course you use your bicycle...
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited September 2013
    Sorry, couldn't help it.

    Here is @ScottZornig demonstrating the new SBCSA "green rule":

  • Loved the whole video...
    Very enviro-correct.
    And
    Oh Lynn,
    You're so fine.
    You're so fine,
    You blow my mind ;;)
    @Lynnkub
  • This idea seems interesting.
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