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Save the Waves: A Look at Endangered Coastal Environment


By Scott Huntington

In response to cries of “save the waves,” the average citizen would likely ask: “From what?” The oceans are unfathomably large environmental juggernauts. Surely waves will continue to roll into shore just as they always have, right?


Coastal environments, especially the surf zones, face great peril. Many great waves are already extinct, and more may follow if no one intervenes.

The economic impact of surfing

The average citizen may think that the surf zone only affects surfers. Maybe it’s time those wandering, long-haired hippies go get a job instead of loitering at the beach.

Cinema continues to present surfers in a very cliché and outdated manner, which in turn reinforces the mental picture the average citizen carries of surfers. However, modern surfers exceed this limited stereotype. In the U.S. alone there are an estimated 3.3 million surfers, covering all occupations, age groups and walks of life. In fact, surfing has become somewhat of a status sport, a way of showing off that you have money to spend on a dramatic, athletic hobby. Surfing is also a grueling sport well capable of drawing spectators to its competitions. All sorts of new variations are popping up, including bodyboarding, boogie boarding and the ever-growing sport of skimboarding.

What’s more, even if every surfer did look like the Hollywood stereotype, the fact remains that surfing makes huge contributions to coastal tourism. A study of Mavericks Surf Break in Half Moon Bay, California, entitled The Value of a Wave, found that surfing brought in $23.8 million annually. That’s $23.8 million annually for one location. Imagine that figure multiplied by the number of coastal surf locations, and you have an astronomical contribution to the world’s tourism economy.

When waves are destroyed – often by altering sand flow patterns – the draw for surfers is destroyed as well. A population that is usually taken for granted suddenly takes on new significance when local businesses discover just how much of their revenue was driven by surfers and surfing fans. As the Mavericks Surf Break study showed, surfing – or the lack thereof – has a concrete economic impact.

Endangered waves

So, if surfing is so lucrative for local coastal businesses, why are surf breaks at risk?

The answer is twofold: lazy waste disposal and uninformed business decisions.

Humans have been polluting the world’s water resources for thousands of years. Unfortunately, as humanity makes industrial, chemical and technological progress, the quantity and toxicity of aquatic pollution skyrockets.

Marine pollution is at a critical point. Oil spills may grab headlines, but it is the everyday chemical runoff and casual waste that really adds up. Sewage, factory waste and pesticides are merely a few of the pollutants that are regularly pumped into the ocean. The resulting chemical imbalance destroys ecosystems and is responsible for the more than 400 known dead zones – areas that cannot support marine life – in Earth’s oceans. If that weren’t enough, solid waste chokes waterways and masses together to form a Texas-sized floating section of garbage in the Pacific Ocean.

This unchecked pollution is killing marine life and contributing to the destruction of economically vital surf breaks.

Pollution and development work hand-in-hand when it comes to destroying precious coastal environments. Development naturally leads to more pollution, but it also contributes major, damaging change all on its own.

The construction of seawalls, marinas, harbors and other coastal structures can have catastrophic effects on sand flow patterns, which in turn affect waves. A lack of information and a lack of vision are often the two biggest contributors to bad construction decisions. Often those deciding where to build do not know that they may irrevocably change wave patterns, nor do they realize the potential economic impact of wave loss.

Fighting to keep making waves

Save the Waves Coalition is just one of the nonprofits working hard to protect these precious coastal environments. The nonprofit’s goal is to create a world where the coastal environment in general and surfing coastline in particular is treated as a precious natural resource, and protected accordingly for the benefit of the greater community.”

Save The Waves works for the preservation of coastal environments through five main avenues:

  • Education: STW seeks to educate the public about the value of these environments.

  • Research: STW seeks to arm decision makers with concrete data regarding the economic and environmental importance of the waves.

  • Media: STW creates documentaries to aid in their education of the public.

  • Enshrinement Programs: STW seeks to proactively preserve coastlines rather than waiting for a threat to arise.

  • Partnerships: STW partners with both local and international groups in order to best protect the surf zones and coastlines.

Of course, groups like Save the Waves can only affect change with public support. What will be your reason for joining the fight to protect endangered coastlines? Are you a surfer? A beach enthusiast? Will you fight to preserve marine life or to protect the social and economic value of the coast?

Image credit: 1) Outdoor Board Sports 2) ocean.nationalgeographic.com 3) savebastionpoint.org

Scott Huntington is a writer and blogger. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington

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