Loss of Surfing Habitat

As surfers, we care about surfing waves, and we are used to going through a bit of effort to find and appreciate them. When waves are threatened by direct human activity, we come together as a group to the help save them. A good example is the Save Trestles campaign, where surfers of all walks of life came together to fight a toll road that threatens the pristine natural watershed of San Mateo Creek that geologically creates the perfect reef breaks of Trestles. Other examples are the outstanding efforts of surfing NGOs such as Surfrider and Save The Waves, which are constantly vigilant against development, legal access, and pollution that would threaten waves and surf beaches worldwide. These campaigns, groups, and the surfers who participate are the “Surfing Conservation Community”, and they collectively fight to preserve “Surfing Habitat” for both people and other creatures that share our ecosystem.

The unfortunate truth is that the threats to Surfing Habitat are now growing exponentially due to the impacts of man-made climate change. Most surfers do not fully understand the awful magnitude of environmental destruction presaged by the current climate change scenario. Indeed, earth scientists have only recently developed a holistic picture of the ‘multiplying feedbacks’ that can affect the oceans and the big ball of rock upon which we live and surf.

To meet this new threat, the surfing conservation community needs to evolve exponentially in cohesiveness and effectiveness. At Sustainable Surf, we believe that this is entirely possible, and in fact, the surfing community can become the model globally for living the change that is necessary.

What is Surfing Habitat?
1. Waves
2. Clean oceans
3. Marine critters (fish, seals, whales, sea birds)
4. Coral Reefs
5. Ecosystem flora and fauna (plankton, kelp)
6. Watersheds on land

Global threats to Surfing Habitat:
1. Sea Level Rise
2. Ocean Acidification
3. Ocean Warming

These threats exist on top of the more direct human impacts such as over-fishing, marine pollution from plastic trash and oil spills, and land-use changes that affect coastal environments. Unfortunately, environmental threats tend to multiply in a synergistic manner.

Direct human impacts on Surfing Habitat
1. Over-fishing
2. Urban pollution (sewage, urban runoff, industrial discharge)
3. Plastic trash
4. Coastal development
5. Oil spills
6. Watershed land-use change

Briefly, here is some more detail on each global threat:

1. Sea Level Rise
Otherwise known as “permanent high tide” at every surf break. Caused by the melting of glaciers, ice sheets, and the thermal expansion of the ocean, sea levels are expected to increase 4-6 feet in the coming century. This will result in the loss and destruction of many surf breaks world-wide, because while projected sea level rise happens on a 100-year timescale while the geologic processes that form surf breaks happen on a 1000-year timescale. For example, it is unlikely that San Mateo Creek will be able deposit cobblestones at Trestles fast enough to keep up with sea level rise in the next 100 years.

2. Ocean Acidification
Even if you ardently disbelieve that humans are causing global warming, you cannot deny that atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing as a direct result of human fossil fuel consumption and forest clearing. The current level of 390 ppm CO2 is about 100 ppm higher than the highest level in the past 35 million years, and the rate of change is 1000 times higher than has ever happened in the geologic history of the Earth. The net result is that oceans are acidifying at an unprecedented rate, which is a problem for any creature that uses calcium carbonate for its skeleton or shell (e.g. coral reefs, shellfish, phytoplankton).

3. Ocean Warming
The oceans are the primary heat sink for the planet, and have absorbed roughly 90% of the recent heating of the Earth.1 This has the most significant effect on coral reefs, which have a very narrow temperature window of survival. If you have seen photos of bleached corals, this is what happens when water warms beyond the safe temperature window. When ocean warming is combined with ocean acidification, marine pollution, and overfishing, scientists now expect 90% of all coral reef ecosystems to be threatened with extinction by the year 2030.2 Other impacts from ocean warming are sea level rise (although glacial melting will be the dominate cause), and ocean stratification.

1. http://www.climatewatch.noaa.gov/article/2011/climate-change-ocean-heat-content
2. http://www.stateoftheocean.org/pdfs/1906_IPSO-LONG.pdf