The Deep Blue Survey – the first ever scientific study of the global surfing community’s behavior and attitudes towards protecting ocean health — has reached a milestone, with over 500 surfers from 35 countries participating in the research.
We are excited to share this snapshot in time of the data collected so far, which suggests a highly environmentally engaged and motivated group. This will be an ongoing research project for the rest of 2018, so please add your voice to the survey if you haven’t already.
Overall there is very strong data showing that the act of surfing results in a raising of environmental awareness and action. This awareness occurs on both local and global geographic scales, and includes a deep understanding that human health is directly linked to ocean health.
The data also shows that surfers engage in pro-environmental actions at much higher rates than the general population. Members of the ‘surfing community’ are already taking action to protect ocean health. The survey identifies some clear directions on how to amplify this impact globally.
Thanks again to Dr. Greg Borne of the Plymouth Sustainability and Surfing Research Group at the University of Plymouth (UK), and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who helped us develop the survey. Academic results will be published in the book “Surfing and Sustainability” in mid-2018.
CHARACTERIZATION OF THE SURFING COMMUNITY
Surfing increases environmental awareness
84% of people said that surfing increases their environmental awareness. Most said this was due to being closer and more connected to nature through the act of surfing, which is a strong theme throughout the survey. However many said it was because of their experience first-hand about pollution from sewage, urban runoff, and marine plastic pollution.
Surfers are very concerned about ocean health
Surfers expressed a very high level of concern about the state of ocean health. They also understand that threats to ocean health come from human activity, with climate change and pollution as the most dire issues. This level of understanding is greater than the average population. Surfers see climate change as a slightly larger threat to the ocean globally, while pollution is a slightly larger threat to themselves locally.
Surfers understand that “ocean health” and “human health” are directly linked
The vast majority of surfers (98%) understand that the health of oceans directly impacts their own well-being, with 90% saying that protecting ocean health improves their own health and wellness. Interestingly, 97% also understand that ocean health is directly affected by their own actions on land. The surfing community has a much higher awareness of their impact on the ocean, and why it matters for day-to-day decisions on land.
Surfers have a strong sense of community
In academic literature, a sense of ‘community’ with other people has been identified as a significant variable in connection to the environment and behaviors. In this survey, 90% of respondents indicate that they are a member of multiple communities, with ‘surfing’ and ‘family and friends’ taking the top spots.
Interestingly, people identified most strongly with communities that are both local and global in geographic scope. This speaks to the global nature of surfing in the modern world. Surfers are generally aware that waves come from storms thousands of miles away, pay attention to surfing events happening across the planet, and travel to remote locations with a broad spectrum of environmental issues.
This is a key result because we believe that the surf community can have a much greater beneficial impact on global environmental issues. This will be done by the surfers who can connect global ocean health with the well-being of their family and friends. The respondents to this survey show the potential for this quite high.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE SURFING COMMUNITY TO PROTECT OCEAN HEALTH
Surfers have a strong tendency to behave in an environmentally friendly way.
86% of respondents think they behave in an environmentally friendly way. This takes the form of a wide range of actions. The most common being recycling, buying local, and conserving energy. A large fraction of respondents grow their own food, use renewable energy, and compost their food scraps. Overall, these are high percentages relative to the average population, and show a strong commitment to taking pro-environmental actions.
Nearly 10% of the respondents have purchased carbon offsets. This is a very high rate of offset purchases relative to the general population. It show a strong awareness that humans are causing one of the major threats to the oceans, through CO2 emissions from daily actions such as driving or flying.
These results show a strong trend in surf community to take pro-environmental actions within their personal life and families.
Barriers to surfers taking more actions to protect ocean health
We asked surfers to list the barriers to taking action to protect ocean health. The lack of infrastructure was the highest, at 75%, with money, lack of information, and time also rating as major barriers above 50%. These results make sense because it is difficult to find resources to make major decisions that affect environmental footprint, and there is huge void of information on potential actions that have benefits like saving money. Many times, the major decisions appear to cost a lot of money.
Gap in knowledge about personal carbon footprint
Climate Change is a major issue that affects ocean health on a grand scale, and it is primarily caused by the carbon footprint of individuals on a global scale. Apparently surfers know this, because 88% of respondents are concerned with their own carbon footprint. However only 28% of respondents have ever calculated their own carbon footprint, and only 2% know the approximate tons of CO2 they emit on an annual basis.
CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK
These results suggest a clear direction for surfers and Sustainable Surf to make a much larger difference in protecting ocean health.
Surfers are a highly aware and engaged community
As a community, surfers have a much higher degree of awareness of global environmental issues, and already exceed the norm in taking personal actions to reduce their environmental impact. These results are very encouraging, because there is already strong momentum in the right direction.
Perhaps this is taken for granted in the surf community, but we should take a moment to appreciate that the act of surfing creates strong benefits toward being a positive influence on the health of the oceans we love. Simply being in water can create a positive state of mind and willingness to engage. When coupled with the international awareness of global surf issues, and an awareness of how local actions affect local oceans, a very potent brew is created.
We are very encouraged by these results. It shows that the surf community is already engaged and taking action to reduce their ocean footprint. This will make it much easier for the community to go even further.
Removing barriers to actions is critical
Even though surfers are more engaged, there are still many barriers that prevent even more effective action. The common barriers of time, money, information, and resources exist for surfers and non-surfers alike. The challenge and role of Sustainable Surf is to help remove these barriers in a systematic manner, and make it easy for surfers to get even more deeply engaged. This is a major focus of our Deep Blue Life program, so expect to see more of that in 2018.
The ‘Surfing Community’ is uniquely poised to tackle ocean health problems
The academic literature is quite clear on the impact of community connections to motive pro-environmental behavior. The survey results show that our community is engaged and aware of both local and global issues. This is a strong starting point to create a global community of surfers that take action on a local level, while being mindful of the benefits this produces on a global level.
A key challenge is how to strengthen the connections of the community that takes these actions. For example, can the people in this survey meet each other, either in person, or in a virtual sense? Can local meetups occur, where surfers can help each other reduce their footprint while improving health and wellness? Expect to see solutions on this front appear through our Deep Blue Life program in 2018.
Carbon footprint issues are a unique opportunity
Solving climate change is the opportunity of a lifetime. For most respondents of the survey, it is probably no surprise that little progress is being to functionally solve the issue of human-induced climate change. It is our belief that a major component of the solution does not yet exist, and that surfers can create it. Until this is done, real progress on solving climate change will be difficult.
What’s missing in the solution to climate change is a positive role-model example of people living a low-carbon lifestyle. There is a lot of finger-pointing and hand-waving about the causes of climate change, but there is little information on solutions that people can actually accomplish on their own. Climate Change is caused by the collective impact of billions of people, and it’s up to the people to solve it. However there’s no clear pathway for individuals to take, and instead the problem is presented as the job of governments and politicians to fix. This hasn’t worked, and in 2018, climate change is only accelerating faster than ever.
The surf community can become that positive role model of people living a “low-carbon” lifestyle that is positive and desirable for anyone to follow. Much of the actions to reduce carbon footprint also have immediate benefits to improve health and wellness. This narrative does not exist in the so-called “debate” on climate change. If our community can accomplish this with real-world examples of people reducing their footprint while also improving their lives, the marketing power of surfing can be used to promote these actions to anyone, whether they surf or not.
Ultimately, we strongly believe that the above strategy will make it easier for governments to enact broad policy changes that are also essential for stopping climate change. Governments typically follow the will of their people, and right now, most people think they cannot solve climate change as individuals. We will prove them wrong, by doing what makes sense for many other reasons.