The Ice Mermaid will try to set a new Guinness World Record by becoming the first person to swim 2.5 kilometers in Bahía Paraíso on the Antarctic Peninsula this February. It is considered one of the most extreme swims in the world.
Chile’s Bárbara Hernández is getting ready to bring home a new record by becoming the first person to swim 2.5 kilometers in Antarctica, the longest distance ever. She will be swimming in extremely frigid waters with temperatures of around -2ºC. The athlete, who has been dubbed the “Ice Mermaid”, will travel to Antarctica in February to try to swim the route, located in Bahía Paraíso on the Antarctic Peninsula, without a wetsuit or thermal protection.
Moving between blocks of ice, the swimmer will try to raise awareness about the polar thaw and will issue a call to protect the environment and stop global warming. “We are in a race against time. This place needs protection, our entire future depends on it. We need concrete actions to stop the ice from melting, because it is key to the survival of our ecosystems,” Bárbara explains. She adds, “Antarctica’s geography has undergone significant changes. In places where there were ice fields 15 years ago, there is now mud. It is therefore key to ensure that it is made a marine protected area as soon as possible.”
The 36-year-old swimmer and psychologist is looking to become the first person from South America to swim the seven oceans. She has already done so in four: the Strait of Gibraltar (between Spain and Morocco); the Catalina Channel (USA); the English Channel (between France and England); and the Molokai Channel (Hawaii).
She took on two major challenges in 2021, right in the middle of the pandemic. In May, she became the first South American woman to cross the Molokai Channel and in August she was the first Latin American woman to swim around the island of Manhattan twice. And that’s not all. Last year, she was also selected as Woman of the Year by the World Open Water Swimming Association, and was chosen among the 100 Young Leaders by the El Mercurio newspaper’s Sábado magazine. The Chilean athlete has earned over 100 medals in her career and placed first in the International Winter Swimming Association rankings in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Bárbara Hernández is a swimmer with a relentless mentality that allows her body to tolerate -2º Celsius water, which doesn’t freeze due to the salt in the seawater. “Bárbara’s body can get to 33º Celsius in a state of hypothermia. At that temperature, a normal person could die instantly,” observed Paulina Álvarez, a member of the technical team that will oversee the world champion’s recovery. “The idea is for this to be her fastest swim, because of the danger involved. She won’t be able to eat or drink anything while she’s doing it.”
The Antarctic challenge will be sponsored by Imagen de Chile, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) and the Chilean Navy.
“The world already knows Chile for its incredible landscapes and geography. We want them to know us for our people, too, and for what they are able to achieve thanks to their talent, vision and capacity to contribute to creating a better future for the world. Bárbara Hernández is a clear example of that,” Imagen de Chile Executive Director Constanza Cea explains. “Various key factors that bring us together as Chileans coincide in this great challenge, and Imagen de Chile wants to show that to the world. The first is our capacity to overcome major obstacles. The second is the importance of caring for our territory and Chile’s extensive marine protected and conservation areas. The third is that we are the gateway to Antarctica, the continent of the future.”
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