NEW YORK — Martin Strel swims with a knife strapped to his right leg – in case he encounters sharks, “vampire” fish and other deadly marine life in the world’s wildest waters.

On Thursday, the 60-year-old marathon swimmer announced the toughest feat of his life: A 10,000-mile, around-the-world voyage on water to draw public attention to increasing aquatic pollution.

“And for peace and love,” Strel added in his native Slovenian language.

He aims to circle the globe in about 450 days, starting in Long Beach, California, on March 22 and passing through oceans, rivers, canals and other bodies of water in more than 100 countries. He’ll swim about five to 12 hours each day, depending on the weather and changing currents. An escort boat will offer emergency support and space for small breaks.

But first, Strel took a demonstration 2.2-mile dip in a choppy, rain-swept New York Harbor on Thursday, taking 63 minutes from the Statue of Liberty to a marina near the World Trade Center.

On the eve of the 9/11 terror attack anniversary, still in his wet suit, he bowed his head for a moment of silence to remember those who died in the complex that’s now rising again.

Since 2000, Strel has swum the entire length of five rivers – the piranha-infested Amazon, the Danube in Eastern Europe, China’s Yangtze, the Parana in South America, and the Mississippi.

Those daring forays have earned him the nickname “Big River Man.”

A native of Slovenia, Strel now lives in Phoenix.

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