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The splash was so loud that environmental advocate Lewis Pugh thought someone had jumped off the bridge he was swimming under. But then Pugh, in the midst of a month-long swim down the United States’ Hudson River, saw what had joined him in the water: a bald eagle.
“This majestic creature spread its wings and lifted up right in front of us. I will never forget the sight of it,” says Pugh.
The British-South African, who is a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Patron of the Ocean, has completed a 507km swim down the Hudson. The journey cast a spotlight on the river’s resurgence – and the need to protect the world’s waterways from pollution, climate change and a range of other threats.
The appearance of a bald eagle on the Hudson would have seemed nearly impossible a few decades ago. America’s national bird, they were on the verge of extinction in the northeastern United States, decimated by the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. But since a ban on the pesticide in 1972, the bald eagles have returned.
“This year, the locals say they have seen record numbers of these birds. What a wonderful success story,” says Pugh.