This Saturday, on January 20th, I’ll be taking part in my third Swim for the Reef to raise money for the Environmental Defenders Office so they can protect the Great Barrier Reef. I’m with the Avid Readers and Writers for the Reef team, swimming with luminaries such as the amazing bookstore owner Fiona Stager and writer Anita Heiss. The day is at Musgrave Park Pool and it’s a wonderful community event. It also includes an inflatables race!
Today I met my training goal of swimming three kilometres, aided in no small part by Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, his memoir on running and writing. A fellow runner gave Murakami the mantra ‘Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.’ Thus getting through long distances, whether over the earth or in the water, is about a frame of mind rather than what’s happening to your body.
The first fifteen hundred metres of a swim are always fine, but after that it starts getting hard. I find the best trick for getting through another fifteen hundred metres is to distract myself by thinking about my work, or a piece of writing, or by imagining myself in the sea surrounded by sharks (I am, I tell myself, learning transferable skills). Today there was ample enough diversion in trying to breathe and stay afloat while a swim squad chopped up the water in the lane beside me.
As I’ve written in earlier posts, I love swimming. I grew up in a place where the heat stretched into the 40s in summer so I was always in the pool (and I have 50 billion freckles to show for it). Those waterborne hours inspired a short story that was published eighteen months ago in Griffith Review. Just as running and writing go together for Murakami, swimming and writing go together for me.
If I have a problem with a piece of writing, I take it into the pool, and by the time I’ve finished my laps I’ve usually solved it. Today I tried to work out the first turning point for a novella, but was stymied by the buffeting of said squad. Still, my characters revealed a little more of themselves, which was helpful. And the water, if it’s sunny, is so glorious it’s poetry. The sunlight creates shifting patterns on the floor of the pool, bubbles peel away from my hands like mercury, and I wish I had gills so I never had to lift my head up for air. The floor of the pool is slightly less poetic: there are bandaids or squares of Elastoplast, hairpins, strands of hair and, once, a two dollar coin that I dived down to collect.
All this enjoyment (and pain) aside, the reason why I’m swimming is to keep the likes of Adani from building their terrible coal mine, which will pump more CO2 into the atmosphere. The oceans have absorbed about half of the world’s man-made carbon dioxide, which has slowed global warming. However, when carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, carbonic acid is formed, leading to higher acidity in the water. Increasing acidification of the oceans will cause coral to become brittle in a form of what Iain McCalman calls ‘coralline osteoporosis’ (The Reef: A Passionate History, p. 331), which will be a disaster given the increase in wild weather caused by climate change. Eventually coral will become soluble in seawater, dissolving like Disprin. And of course bleaching will continue to happen more regularly with rising temperatures.
It’s not looking good for the world’s largest living structure, which might be one of the reasons why this year has been designated the third International Year of the Reef. If you’d like to support the Reef via the Environmental Defenders Office and my interminable laps, my fundraising page is here. If you’re a social media fan, you can also follow what’s happening on the day via #swimforthereef