Swim 4 the Reef: Extraordinary Event Extraordinary Cause

World Freediving

Tanya Streeter

Gone in 100 years?

Headline News

Project Director

Angel Productions


Top Return to Top

The Mission of Swim for the Reef is three fold:
  1. 1To raise public awareness to the fact that our coral reefs are in serious trouble;
  2. To inspire those that are still uncommitted to get informed and take action;
  3. To recognize the organizations, foundations and citizens' groups that are working hard to preserve our planet’snatural environments;highlighttheir goodworks on our website; and provide an easy access for citizens to find their favorite cause and get involved.

Top Return to Top

On August 1, 2004 at 1:am, Paul Ellis, a 61 year old grandfather, Texas businessman, ex-Marine aviator, environmentalist, community activist and sports enthusiast will begin an incredible journey... to swim from the island of Cozumel, 35 miles across the Yucatan Channel to the mainland of Cancun, Mexico... without stopping... alone.

1125 years ago, while on a family trip along the Mexican coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Ellis first discovered the beauty of coral reefs. There he marveled at the clouds of fish and pristine beauty he found off a little island called Isla Mujeres. Five years ago, when he returned to the Caribbean, he was shocked by the lack of ocean life. "It was a catastrophe, an unmitigated disaster," he said of the. "I was so disappointed and so stunned." The more he learned about the reefs, the more he fretted. Much of the world's sea life depends on the reefs for survival. "It's immensely important, and it staggers the imagination the catastrophe that will befall the earth if the reef is destroyed," he said. The sadness turned to anger, the anger to resolve. "I told myself I've got to figure out something to do to say what I feel about it," he said. Ellis realized he had to become personally involved. Thus began his new purpose and urgent journey—to increase awareness about the significance of the reefs and the importance of preserving them. That's when the idea for the swim came to him. "My three sons, Paul Matthew, Tres, and Colin, and I were sitting at a University of Texas basketball game when what I could do about it hit me. I leaned over to Tres, who is the men's basketball coach at Austin High School, and announced I was going to swim the Yucatan Channel for the sake of the reefs, for my grandchildren, and for my own sense of adventure. The boys quietly took it in, then Tres spoke for them all, saying, "That's a long swim, Dad."

For this gray-haired grandfather, it's not just about one man's perseverance and spirit, his quest to swim across a shark-infested channel. It's about using that swim to remind the world that if we don't do something to keep the reefs healthy, they'll be lost forever. "The goal of my Cozumel to Cancun swim is to help raise awareness of the plight of the oceans, in particular the coral reef systems worldwide. Indeed they are the "canary in the mine shaft" and have been distressed and dying for years. I have seen through my own dive mask the constant deterioration and decided to do something about it."

Top Return to Top

After training for two and a half years, logging a total of more than 2,500 miles, swimming 6 days per week, 2-4 hours per day, consulting regularly with an Olympic swimmer, a professional nutritionist, other accomplished athletes and physicians, this past July, 2002, Ellis made his first attempt to swim the deep open water from Cozumel to Cancún.

1After having to change course due to the weather and changing currents, and after swimming more than 11 hours, the dangerous conditions forced Ellis out of the water.

Ellis, however, has committed to attempt the swim again August 2004, determined to conquer the challenge in what he has termed "My personal Mt. Everest" and, more importantly, to continue the quest to help focus attention on the threatened coral reefs worldwide. Ellis’ confidence and compelling story has inspired the making of a documentary film that captures this compelling human spirit and environmental story. The documentary is working with researchers from Duke University, the University of Texas, the Oceanic Conservation Organization, the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation, and a growing list of other worldwide, committed environmental organizations to supplement Ellis’ story and educate the public about the importance of our world’s coral reef systems.

"My hope is that my personal journey through the waters of the Caribbean is one that will challenge what we think we understand about the coral reef systems and the life it supports, while redefining the way we look at environmental partnerships and priorities." – Paul Ellis

Top Return to Top

Dangers. History of attempts. Topographical facts.

This absolutely amazing body of water flows between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula. This generally northbound current brings many benefits to the Mexican Caribbean, among them nutrients and a cleansing flow that makes the Palancar Reef System among the most pristine coral reefs remaining in the world. The portion of the Yucatan Channel that will be swum is technically called the Canal De Cozumel and contains water thousands of feet deep and is home to an immense variety of aquatic life, from the tiny plankton to the enormous whale sharks feeding upon them. The swim area is an ideal example of the interrelated nature of a complex and sensitive biosphere. Even the mighty Amazon River, which drains fresh water from the northern portion of South America, plays an important part in the nature of the sea water of the western Caribbean. This immense fresh water flow is carried northward to the great benefit of the reef system, and even makes the waters taste better to divers and snorkelers than other salt water bodies not so directly impacted by fresh water sources. For the swimmers and divers these waters are often treacherous, sometimes fatal, due to the strong currents which can be occasionally unpredictable. Divers have been swept away and the sea predators are always present in the deep waters of the Channel and a factor of constant concern. The entire Caribbean Sea is a miracle of fortunate geological circumstance. Observe a globe and one is immediately struck by the almost closed nature of this body of water. With the Islands of the West Indies acting as a filter for the eastern Caribbean, and the east coast of Central America, together with the northern coast of South America acting as barriers, the Caribbean Sea benefits from this protection to have relatively calm and clear waters, perfect for the formation of it's beautiful coral reefs.

What about the sharks?

One expert says Ellis is taking a risk by swimming without a shark cage. George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, says sharks have a competitive advantage over humans, especially at night. They use smell, sound, pressure differences and electromagnetic sensors to hunt, while humans can't even see well when it's dark. "It's a dangerous thing to do," Burgess said. "This gentleman would be well advised to consider taking a cage, or if he's not going to do that, to have lots of support people around him all the time."

But Ellis doesn't like to talk about the possibility of anything disrupting his swim. He'll rely on his sons, Colin, Paul Matthew and Tres, who will ride alongside him in a boat, to watch for lightning, jellyfish and sharks. They'll cut short the trip if it gets too dangerous.

"It's my job to finish the swim," Ellis said. "Juan, who floated with his dead friend, showed me it can be done. When I take off, I'll say, 'See you guys on the other side,' and I don't mean that metaphorically."

While his family is concerned, they're also supportive. "I know my dad," Colin Ellis said. "I know the reality of when he decides to do something big. It's hard not to use one of his expressions, 'the cosmic flyswatter of life.' If this is where he is when it gets him, that's where he'll be -- in the channel between Cozumel and the Yucatan."


That area of the world is know for some of the strongest currents anywhere because it is where the entire Gulf of Mexico loop current originates. That means a lot of water is moving in and out of the Gulf through the northwest Caribbean. There may also be good times and bad times to cross the channel. You can consult this web>site for more information, but it may lack detail for the channel you plan to cross BTW.
Paul Montagna
Marine Science Institute
University Of Texas At Austin

Top Return to Top

Paul EllisThose who meet Paul H. Ellis quickly notice his natural charm and accompanying Southern accent. Those who get the opportunity to spend time with Ellis quickly understand that his personal and professional paths have been unique and full of purpose. Southern to the bone, Ellis was born in 1943 in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in the hills of North Carolina. At 60 years old, this father of 3 and grandfather of 7 has dedicated his life to improving the lives of others.

A graduate of Wake Forest University, Ellis entered the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a decorated Medi-vac pilot in Vietnam. Decorations Ellis received for his valiant service include the Presidential Unit Citation, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Air Medal with Bronze Star, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

During the 1980s, Ellis came to Texas to venture into real estate, construction, and development. For the last fifteen years, Ellis has owned and served as president and CEO of Austin Business College, a private, vocational training institution here in Austin.

Throughout his career. Ellis has contributed his expertise to a number of government, professional, and civic activities. As a member of the Joint Interim Committee on Proprietary Schools, the Texas Council on Vocational Education, the Texas Council On Workforce and Economic Competitiveness, serving as chair of the Texas Consolidation Committee, Ellis proved his commitment to improving the Texas workforce development system.

Ellis’ professional affiliations include the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Career College Association, the Austin Association of Private Schools, the Career College Association, Board of Directors of the Better Business Bureau, and Board of Directors for the Career Colleges and Schools of Texas.

Ellis is just as dedicated to improving the daily lives of those in his hometown, Austin. Ellis’ civic activities include leadership in the Austin/Travis County Community Action Network, New Milestones Foundation, Austin Equity Commission, Austin-Travis County Workforce Development Board, and as a founding member of the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas.

Adventure Tours USA

The Project   Reef Crisis   Get Involved!   Photos and Videos   Events and Media   Contact Us   Sponsors   Diver Specials
Photo credits: courtesy Brad Love - Angel Productions
2012-15 Swim for the Reef. All Rights Reserved.
Site Developed by: fivetwelvestudios
Swim for the Reef
17524 Lighthouse Lane
North Shore, Texas 78645