One Man – Against the Odds -- Making a Difference: Paul Ellis Swims for the Reef and Ocean - Educator Seeks 1 Million Clean Water Activists and a Few Intrepid Sponsors

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FEATURE-LENGTH New Release: On Aug. 5, 2004, Austin, Texas college educator Paul Ellis will make his 2nd attempt to swim Mexico's Yucatan Challenge, with a goal of completing the 35-mile, shark and jellyfish infested swim and to attract 1 million clean water activists to his Swim4theReef.com web site.

– In April, the President's U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy cited a "critical need" to protect ocean resources from exploitation and pollution. That’s hardly news to Paul Ellis of Austin.

The 61-year-old grandfather and former U.S. Marine Corps pilot has been training for four-plus years – more than 5,000 miles -- to swim Mexico’s Yucatan Channel to raise public awareness of the perils facing the coral reefs and the world’s "one ocean that goes by many names."

At 2 a.m. on Aug. 5, 2004, Ellis, founder and chairman of Austin Business College, will brave Caribbean waters in an attempt to swim the 35 miles from Cozumel Island to mainland Cancun. The environmentalist and sports enthusiast has dedicated himself to "inspiring millions of world citizens still uncommitted to get informed and to take action."

"The dream success of my mission would be for one million persons to join an organization dedicated to our common goals and to work in their communities and their civic and political circles on behalf of clean water issues," Ellis emphasized. "I don’t care which of the organizations listed at my Web site, http://www.swim4thereef.com , they choose to support. Good work is being done. Whether you are a homemaker or a lawmaker, the need for individual involvement before it is too late is absolutely critical."

On May 8, to launch his present channel quest and in recognition of May being National Senior Citizens Month, he became the first person ever to swim from Miller Dam to Longhorn Dam on Austin's Town Lake. He completed the seven miles along the Colorado River in three hours and 35 minutes, about the same amount of time it took to convince the City Council to lift its long-standing, no-swimming ban on the lake for the attempt.

Ellis' courageous undertaking also is designed to recognize and support the organizations, foundations and citizens groups committed to preserving earth’s life-giving eco-systems. "That includes the Mexican government for its major success in implementing a National Marine Park off the Island of Cozumel and protecting the Meso-American Reef system," he said.

Frigid Training, Fresh Support

The environmental crusader has been training up to seven hours a day in the chilly 68-degree waters of Austin's Barton Springs pool to make good his second attempt at crossing the channel.

In 2002, he was personally coached by former Mexican Olympic swimmer Josh Ilika, had a nutritionist and a phalanx of physicians. However, he was forced to cut short the endeavor after 11 grueling hours, due to severe changes in the currents. This time, Ellis has been given access to more than 20 years of studies and satellite images of the impulsive Yucatan currents.

The Vietnam veteran, a decorated medi-vac pilot, has already spent more than $30,000 in personal funds to take on the "dangerous enterprise" -- sharks, jellyfish, currents, winds, and even passing cruise ships and their dangerous wakes. The swim, 14 miles longer than an English Channel crossing, may take up to 15 hours. And lest one think he is foolhardy, Ellis is the first to declare, "I am not a daredevil. I'm an educator."

The swim, which will take him about 15 miles offshore in water that is 4,000 feet deep, is not sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), the worldwide, swimming sports governing organization. However, Ellis has self-imposed specific ground rules.

He will not touch any of the three boats that will accompany him. His sons, Colin, Paul Matthew and Tres, will ride alongside him in a boat to help watch for menacing sharks and lightning, which will signal his exit from the water. He will then re-enter the water when it is safe at the exit point recorded by a mobile global positioning system (GPS).

"We live in a time in which every living system on earth is in decline, and that rate of decline is accelerating. We are losing our forests, fisheries, coral reefs, topsoil, water, biodiversity and climate stability. Our land, sea and air are being transformed from life-supporting systems into repositories for waste," Ellis opines. "We have lost more than 25% of the world's coral reefs. At the present rate of destruction, 60% of the world's coral reefs will be destroyed by 2034."

"Really, there is just one ocean on this planet, but it goes by a lot of different names. Both it and the reefs form an amazing ecosystem that is the source and resource for all living organisms," he said. "The steps we take now may not have an impact for decades. The steps untaken, however, may well doom a major portion of our planet and an untold number of species."

Scientific Concern...Public Awareness

To reinforce the commitment to his cause, Ellis and friends hosted a free public showing of the IMAX film "Coral Reef Adventure" at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin on June 17. About 260 persons attended and learned more about the swim and the role reefs play as the "canary in the mine shaft."

"I've been a sport diver for more than 30 years. Through my own dive mask I have seen the deterioration of the reefs for decades," Ellis told the audience. "It is why I decided to do something about it and why I'm asking others to join me."

Reef Check's Gregor Hodgson, an ecologist and professor at UCLA, said reef protection is important for the environment and science. He says coral reefs rank second only to rain forests for biodiversity and are a proven, valuable source for medical researchers. Chemical compounds found on reefs have been used to fight cancer and HIV, the virus that causes the AIDS disease.

"That's why we should take care of reefs," Hodgson said. "Everything is linked in these ecosystems. If we pull that particular link, it's likely to destabilize the entire earth function."

Ellis' saltwater quest and determination to enroll citizen-activists has caught the attention of local and national media. Ellis has been featured by the Associated Press; the Austin American-Statesman; "Touch of Grey", a syndicated, 50-station radio show; by Texas State Network (radio), and all five area television stations. Upcoming national coverage will appear in Fathoms Magazine, Rodale's Dive Magazine and on ESPN Radio News.

Ellis' confidence and compelling story has inspired the making of a documentary film that captures this compelling human spirit and environmental story. Brad Boyd, executive producer at Angel Productions in Lago Vista, Texas (angelproductions@earthlink.net) is working with researchers from Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, the Oceanic Conservation Organization, the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation and a growing list of other worldwide, committed environmental organizations to supplement Ellis’ story and to educate the public about the importance of the coral reef systems.

"Ellis is an extraordinary man attempting an extraordinary feat for an extraordinary cause. I only hope I am up to accurately capturing his bravado, intensity and devotion," Boyd said.

Mexican Officials Involved

In mid-June, Ellis and Boyd met with Robert Cudney, Director of the National Marine Park of Cozumel, which support the swim, including deployment of a patrol boat. Cudney will speak at the Swim4theReef "Celebrate Cozumel" International Reef Party surrounding the event.

Other officials "on board", include Raul Marrufo, Director-General of Economic Development and Tourism of Cozumel and (Mayor) Carlos Hernandez-Blanco, Presidente de Municipal of San Miguel del Cozumel.

Sergio Sandoval is the expert consulting on Yucatan currents and environmental elements, along with his daughter Betty, a record-holding distance swimmer who also is a team member. Sandoval was a friend, advisor and guide to the late Jacque Cousteau when his research vessel The Calypso visited Isla Cozumel waters.

Cozumel's Palancar Reef and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia are the two largest living organisms on earth, a feat requiring 50 million to 60 million years to accomplish. The damage to the reefs has largely occurred during the past 100 years due to global warming, overfishing and pollution. Still, an estimated 300 million persons now rely on fish from the reefs for food.

"Whether I succeed in the swim or not, my invitation is clear: Be a part of history, join the fastest growing, most powerful movement in the world...to protect the living systems of our planet earth," Ellis said, adding "I wish I could deliver that message in every known language in the world. Get in the water! Get informed. Take Action. Tell others."

For more details, map of swim route, digital images of Ellis, project updates and sponsor information or ways you can get involved, go to http://www.swim4thereef.com .

FOR INFORMATION, INTERVIEWS OR SPONSORSHIPS:

Preston F. Kirk, APR, The Chrisman Group, Austin TX, 830-693-4447; kirk@281.com,

Jacque Chrisman, Principal, 512-345-8969; jchrisman@chrismangroup.com

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Preston F. Kirk, APR
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