Education, Events, Sports

Saving our coasts a swim at a time

Swim Camp welcomes Moroccan Swimmer Hassan Baraka, who is crossing oceans to protect coastlines. Heidi Zemach photo.
Swim Camp welcomes Moroccan Swimmer Hassan Baraka, who is crossing oceans to protect coastlines. Heidi Zemach photo.

A Moroccan distance swimmer, and ambassador for the protection of the coasts, visited Seward August 14th to share his unusual challenge of linking all of the world’s continents together by swimming across the open oceans from one to the other.

Hassan Baraka, 27, looking fit, lean and speaking with a heavy accent, addressed participants of at the University of Wyoming Swim Camp, which meet last week at Seward High School pool. He shared a little about his experiences distance swimming, and his views on success with a group of young swimmers. Baraka came to Alaska on a mission- swimming from Little Diomede Island across the International Dateline to Alaska—the third event in his global expedition to swim between the world’s continents. At every leg of the journey, he talks with those who will listen about the responsibility to take care of the environment, and asks them to assist him, and his expedition in a beach cleanup.

Seward’s cleanup took place along the Seward waterfront in heavy rain Thursday afternoon.

“We want to send a message of protection to our oceans and to our shores. That’s why we do this,” Baraka said. “It is an environmental project. People have to be aware that we have to take care of our planet.”

Hassan, the youngest Moroccan to successfully cross the Strait of Gibraltar, completed his first swim, from Europe to Africa (Spain to Morocco) last July. Then, he swam from Asia to Europe (Turkey) in July of this year. His Asia to America (Little Diomede Island to Nome) swim took place earlier this month. He’ll swim from Oceania to Asia (Papua, New Guinea to Indonesia) in September; and Africa to Asia (Egypt to Saudi Arabia) in October.

Morocco is a North African country with 31 million people that extends from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahara Desert. It’s an arid to semi-arid region where the climate plays a large role in people’s livelihoods and lives, and which is greatly dependent on water, agriculture, tourism and its coastal areas.

Moroccan Swimmer Hassan Baraka with translator and project manager Mounia Bendriss, at Seward High School. Heidi Zemach photo.
Moroccan Swimmer Hassan Baraka with translator and project manager Mounia Bendriss, at Seward High School. Heidi Zemach photo.









Prior to his swim across the Bering Sea, Baraka trained in Whittier, which was about 42.8 degrees F, (9-10 degrees Celsius). The Russia to Alaska swim was his coldest: 6 degrees Celsius, he said. He was met at the shore by the medic accompanying him, who took his temperature, and wrapped him in an emergency warming blanket. In addition to swimming in extreme cold water and swimming in a wet suit, he had to contend with the presence of sharks and whales, Baraka said. The main difference in swimming in oceans, he told the young swimmers, is you have to lift your head all the way out of the water to see where you are going and to take in what’s around you. That also helps you keep track of the direction you’re swimming, with the assistance of two boats, one in front, and another to the side. Because of the international time difference, after a 35 minute swim Baraka actually arrived at the other side about 24 hours earlier in time than he had set out.

Baraka’s other accomplishments include being the youngest Moroccan participant in the European Ironman Championship in Germany, (2012) and the first Moroccan in the French Ironman (2011). He offered advice for the youngsters, many of who train for competition with the Seward Tsunami Swim Club: Find a clear goal, and work toward achieving it rather than drifting through life; and be aware that everything is possible, but nothing is free. One has to work hard to achieve one’s goal. Baraka also shared a few of own failures. At age 10, he was disappointed to realize that he could not be a star soccer player he dreamed of being because others around him were better at the sport than he was. Shortly after moving from Spain to France at age 12, this time to play Rugby competitively, he broke his shoulder and could not continue with that sport either. Now he’s working on Triathlons, and is focusing on his open water swimming.

He also advised the swimmers to stay in the moment while swimming, and enjoy every bit of their training, however difficult it is. During competitions he suggested swimmers aim only to do their very best, not to beat the others—which only adds stress and ruins the fun.

“The Moroccan Swim Around the World” is one of the projects of Morocco Princess Lalla Hasnaa.

Since 2001, she has been working to facilitate the preservation of global coastlines affected by rapid erosion, pollution and other issues through the Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection.

Coastal erosion or flooding is not an issue in Morocco yet however, said project manager Mounia Bendriss, who accompanied Baraka to help translate and film his mission, along with his swim coach and medic. Rather, it’s human-caused pollution, and the lack of rain and water shortage due to Global Climate Change. The majority of Moroccan’s haven’t yet bought into the seriousness of the situation, and the need to conserve water, she lamented, nor accepted the need to stop polluting their beaches. Thus, the project’s beach cleanups, however small, are integral to its mission.

“That’s why this project is also important for Moroccans,” Bendriss said, “because it’s a way to send a message for our country, but also other countries that we have to be very careful. It’s an ecological gesture that is very important, and it costs nothing.”


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