Researcher will swim entire length of Tennessee River to promote water quality awareness

Dr. Andreas Fath, a world-record-holding endurance swimmer and scientist, makes his first dive into the Tennessee River near Knoxville for his historic swim. (Screen grab courtesy Tennessee Aquarium)


The Tennessee Aquarium announced that Dr. Andreas Fath accomplished swimming the 652-mile Tennessee River in a record time of 34 days. The Aquarium says Fath on average swam 20 miles per day while only taking one day off to reach this goal in world breaking time.

Fath crossed nine different reservoirs and endured what the Aquarium calls the punishing sun, uncomfortable water temperatures - up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and wind-whipping waves. Fath took samples throughout his journey by wearing an artificial membrane on his leg. This device, which Fath likens to a fish skin, collected any organic pollutants he came into contact with. Fath is planning on researching and creating a "report card" for the overall health of the Tennessee River, North America's most biodiverse watershed. Past experience has taught him the Tennessee may be carrying more of these pollutants than the public realizes.

“I am very happy that I reached my goal,” Fath told the Tennessee Aquarium. “The support and interest of people who live along the Tennessee River was overwhelming.”

Fath said that he was motivated to reach his goal by the support and response he received from the public. While he was on his journey, residents along the Tennessee River invited Fath into their home for meals, refreshments, or simply somewhere to rest.

“By publishing a scientific paper, I mainly reach scientists, but an unconventional endurance swim gains the attention of the general public as well,” Fath emphasizes to the Tennessee Aquarium. “Everyone can contribute to keeping our rivers healthy and clean. A great start is to dispose of your unused pharmaceuticals correctly rather than simply flushing them down the toilet or sink.”


You swim in the pool for a fun day in the summer sun. Dr. Andreas Fath swims the Tennessee River for science.

Dr. Fath is a professor at Furtwangen University in Germany. He is also a researcher with a focus on water quality improvement. That is precisely why he is tackling this task. At a presentation at the Tennessee Aquarium Thursday night, Dr. Fath told a crowd he was in the middle of spending almost a month in the Tennessee River. It's not the first time he’s done something like this.

"It's actually my second swim," Dr. Fath said. "The first swim I did 3 years ago."

3 years ago, Dr. Fath swam the Rhine River in Europe, which is a similar length to the Tennessee. He says the reason for the swims, is to promote water quality.

Related | TenneSwimmer en route to Chattanooga

"I took samples. I analyzed the Rhine and it was all about making people aware of the impact of water quality," Dr. Fath explained. Those samples from the Rhine showed the river was filled with contaminants harmful to wildlife and the water.

Dr. Fath says he found particles of plastic and pharmacy medicines inside of the river, most likely a result of littering and improper waste.

Some attendees found the presentation to be fascinating.

"We all knew plastics were bad and that we used too many," said Doug Wood, who was engaged in Dr. Fath's presentation. "But you never realize it until you hear a presentation like this and hear how bad it is."

Dr. Fath will be collecting similar samples to test as he swims along the Tennessee. He is calling the campaign "Tenneswim." But how exactly does swimming raise awareness?

"If you write a scientific paper, only scientists will read it," said Dr. Fath. "If somebody is that crazy to swim long distance, people are attracted. They come here and listen to the message."

Dr. Fath brought the experiment to Tennessee because he believes the rivers are very similar.

Dr. Fath says they will post results of his samplings and tests on their website, which can be accessed here. Viewers can also track the course of his journey as well.

TenneSwim's YouTube channel also has videos of Dr. Fath starting his Tennessee journey.

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