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THE NATIONAL : Activist takes on Dubai seas to deliver environmental message

French endurance swimmer collects litter from the sea and creates art in a bid to raise awareness about protecting the world's oceans.

Emerging from the sea, Steve Stievenart tosses back two bananas, gargles olive oil straight from the bottle and squirts drops into his eyes before jogging back to the water.

He is in the middle of a 12-hour swimming challenge to deliver a simple message: keep the world’s oceans clean for the marine life.

Stievenart, a French activist, swimmer and plastic artist, has been campaigning against water pollution for the past 21 years, swimming in seas across the world to draw attention to it.

During his 12-hour swim this week, off Kite Beach in Dubai, he collected at least 60 lighters and other debris from the sea.

“I will create an art sculpture from the lighters and leftover litter,” said Stievenart, 41, pulling out a tattered plastic bag from his swimming trunks. “I saw this while swimming and I tucked it inside my pocket.”

He invites young passers-by on the beach to help him create the artwork. Passing his environmental message to children is the key ingredient to a plastic-free future.

“Children will develop passion for the message through the art,” Stievenart said. “It is very important to get them involved because, in the future, there will be politicians and government policymakers among them.”

His gruelling challenge began at 6am and by 6pm he swam 36 kilometres. After every two laps he ran up the beach, ate two bananas, gargled olive oil and refresh his eyes with some Physiodose serum before running back to the water to continue.

He ate 12 bananas over the course of his challenge. “Banana has potassium so it prevents me from getting cramps in my legs,” Stievenart said. “I did not suffer any cramps today. The olive oil protects my tongue and nostrils from seawater. “When it got really tough at 3pm because the sun was very strong, I found the motivation in me to continue.”

On Monday, families and beach-goers gathered around to watch him. Preston Martelly, who has been travelling with his wife and children for about a year, was among those watching.

“We were in the water and my wife pointed him out, and we heard he is doing it for a cause and we thought it was pretty cool,” said Mr Martelly, 38, from Canada. “We just saw him come out of the water from nowhere.”

Indra Rambaran, 37, said: “Now we are teaching the kids about plastic in water, and in every beach we went to in South East Asia we have seen the problem. “The kids are becoming more and more aware, so it was great to introduce them to someone doing something about it.”

Stievenart’s next goal is to swim the 120 kilometres from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. “It will take between 40 to 50 hours,” he said. “The date has not been finalised. My friend is a water analytic and he will tell me when would be the best conditions to do it.”

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