The first swimming circumnavigation of Peninsular Malaysia's Tioman Island
In June/July 2020 we will attempt to swim a complete circumnavigation of Peninsular Malaysia's Tioman Island—to our knowledge an expeditionary first and as yet unaccomplished feat. Supported by a safety boat and local guide, we will wild camp at night on uninhabited jungle bays and rocky outcrops with the aim to complete the swim over five to six days. Daily distances will average 10-15km plus deviations for tide and currents.
A central goal of the expedition is to raise awareness of the issues facing our oceans’ marine ecosystems, and, in collaboration with local and global organisations, to promote support for initiatives that seek to conserve them.
‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’
― Howard Thurman ―
PULAU TIOMAN | ISLAND OF THE DRAGON
Tioman—a paradise island off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, famed for its sandy beaches and stunning coral reefs. Thick mountainous jungles sprawl from coast to coast—an emerald gem amidst the deep blue waters of the South China Sea.
Legend has it that Tioman embodies the last resting place of a mighty dragon, drawn to the beauty of the surrounding ocean. The Dragon’s Horns rise in towering limestone peaks above the jungle at the island’s southern tip, while the beast's vast tail stretches northwards in an undulating spine of thick rainforest and coral-strewn inlets.
George has completed a number of ultramarathons and self-styled ultra-expeditions in the past few years, including multi-day undertakings in both Fiji and Scotland. Swimming competitively until late teens (and since then dabbling sporadically with open-water and, more recently, freediving), this expedition is an opportunity to turn the focus back to the water, remember how to swim and combine the two: a project in ultra- swimming.
Previous escapades have included a twelve-hour trail-run in Bali to raise money for local plastic pollution initiatives, and most recently a number of months living with the Batek tribe, a hunter-gatherer group of the Malayan rainforest, studying the biomechanics of their remarkable tree-climbing ability.
An ex-national swimmer for Australia, Chloe Ireland Ireland turned her focus instead to yoga and surfing after a two-year bout of debilitating burnout following a viral infection. Always having lived in and around the ocean she has more recently taken up freediving, training as an instructor last year. This expedition is to her the opportunity to push the limits, spread awareness, and experience a deeper connection with the elements and her greatest love—the sea.
A certified yoga and freediving instructor, Chloe has taught around Oceania and SE Asia, surfing, freediving and generally exploring the oceans of the South East. Most recently she has spent time in Fiji and Indonesia, surfing the swell of the Pacific whilst promoting the protection of our oceans and our connection to each other and the earth.
Starting and finishing in Juara Bay, we intend to swim an anticlockwise circuit of the island—about 60km, assuming we manage to swim straight! Besides the distance, the biggest challenges are likely to be navigating the northern and south-easternmost tips of the island, where currents are known to be strong and unpredictable.
Our motivation for the swim is twofold. On a purely personal level it is about adventure and the freedom of the wilderness: the opportunity to push limits and to rediscover our passion for swimming in a wilder context.
But more broadly—as freedivers, open-water swimmers and generally outdoor-oriented people—the expedition is an extreme act that aims to grab attention and draw it to the shocking state of our oceans—to the need to act now. It is a positive and eye-catching platform from which to educate and inspire, and to promote the organisations and solutions that work to counter threats to our seas.
The vibrant marine ecosystems and untouched jungles of Tioman present the ideal stage for such a purpose. Vast uninhabited tracts of tropical jungle coastline inspire a true spirit of adventure and wilderness expedition, whilst powerfully embodying both the current vulnerability and the natural grandeur of our ocean at its best. It is a living vision of what it is worth fighting for.
Pulau Tioman is a vitally important marine ecological site. Not only is it the location of nesting beaches for Green and Hawksbill sea turtles, but also of large expanses of untouched coral reef. The critical importance of coral for the ocean and its biodiversity (and indeed the earth as a whole) is only beginning to be understood, yet the destruction of coral reefs is accelerating rapidly. Even on Tioman Island, with its extensive marine protection zones, the impacts of human activity can be seen on an alarming scale. Over the past 20 years, sea turtle nesting sites have decreased by more than 75%, while living coral coverage continues to fall both on Tioman and worldwide. There are many issues, from the impacts of increasing tourism and boat traffic, to the ever-present threats of plastic pollution and climate change.
Tioman Island is a flagship for both the paradisiacal beauty of these ecosystems, as well as the many human impacts that affect them.
We will be working closely with the Juara Turtle Project (JTP) to conduct qualitative research surveys during the expedition with respect to plastic pollution, turtle nesting and reef quality in the island’s most remote areas. We will also be investigating the use of new waste management systems (successfully implemented in Indonesia by Make A Change World) in line with JTP’s current efforts and initiatives.
Outreach will include promotion of local marine conservation initiatives and more general awareness via social channels and post-expedition media outputs and speaking, as well as events and awareness-building on the ground. On Tioman specifically, with the input of both organisations we will be organising and running educational events aimed at both locals and tourists, including at the island’s schools.
Externally, we will be publicising our expedition and its conservation message both personally and with the help of JTP and Make A Change World to reach as many people as possible.
During the swim we will be carrying a SPOT GPS tracker device on our person at all times to record the route taken and allow live tracking of our progress.
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