Russian swimmers cross Lake Baikal to draw attention to ecological issues

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Five Russian swimmers crossed the icy waters of Lake Baikal in Siberia on Wednesday, hoping to draw attention to the many ecological threats facing the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Without wetsuits, the swimmers, four men and one woman, took turns crossing 55 kilometers of the lake and finishing near the town of Irkutsk, a performance they trained for several years.

Each swimmer completed a 10 to 30 minute session in the lake before being taken over by another, a necessary precaution because of the water temperature which can drop to 9 ° C.

“This performance is dedicated to the ecology and purity of Baikal, to draw attention to our lake,” one of the swimmers, Andreï Bougaï, told AFP.

“When the temperatures are low, the muscles become hard and the body does not obey well (…) We were not ready for this”, confided another swimmer, Evgueni Zazioulia, who runs a swimming club.

A rescue service boat accompanied the swimmers throughout their crossing, which lasted 17 hours and ended on Wednesday morning.

Called “For a Clean Baikal”, the performance was devoted to all the ecological problems that have affected the lake for years. The largest freshwater reserve on the planet, Baikal suffers in particular from an invasion of algae, intense tourism and forest fires that surround it each year.

Russian environmentalists also denounce the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin, taken at the end of July, to authorize the cutting of trees in the region, in order to develop the main railway lines which pass near the lake.

The government has also said it is considering allowing industries to operate in the region after prior authorization.

“If this plan is approved in the current form, it means that anything can be built on the shores of Lake Baikal,” said Mikhail Kreindlin, of the NGO Greenpeace Russia, alarmed.

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