On International Surfing Day, SAS launched a new report warning surfers that their sport is under threat from a changing climate. The report written by SAS examines the possible impacts a changing climate could have on one of the UK’s fastest growing sports.
To illustrate the findings, SAS campaigners moved to one of the highest points in Cornwall – Carn Brea – to unveil a 22nd century version of surfing, virtual style, as waves are off limits due to rising sea levels and polluted waters. Over 600,000 people are now surfing in the UK. Surfers in the UK rely on a combination of clean, safe water, consistent swells and favourable tidal conditions to get the most out of British waves.
SAS have spent the last year researching the potential impacts of a changing climate and are now concerned that surfers in the UK could suffer from a reduction in water quality as sewer systems are overwhelmed during storm events, increasing the health risks to surfers and other recreational water users. Changes in surf conditions as sea level rise leads to less surf at some lowtide reefs, increased beach erosion at some sites.
Also, possible changes in the amount of surf reaching some areas or at certain times of the year. Much reduced water temperature if the Gulf Stream were to shut down.
Of particular concern to SAS is how rainfall is predicted to change during this century and its impact on the sewerage system. As rainfall volumes and intensities increase, our combined sewerage system will have to cope with higher volumes of wastewater. Many sewage systems are already overstretched and in all likelihood we can expect overflows of untreated sewage to increase impacting on coastal water quality around the UK.
With more untreated sewage entering the water we can expect an increase in the risk to the health of water users, particularly those who undertake active sports that result in immersion under water, such as surfers. Gastroenteritis, hepatitis A and ear, nose and throat infections can all be contracted through sewage-polluted water.
Wetter weather is also expected to lead to an increase in diffuse pollution and flooding, both of which can cause many pollutants such as heavy metals, pesticides and animal faeces to ‘run off’ the land and into watercourses that empty into coastal areas used extensively by recreational water users.
The report also examines the impact global warming could have on sea level rise. Current conservative predictions suggest sea levels could rise by as much as 69cms by 2080, with much higher rises if catastrophic collapse of an ice sheet were to occur.
Small rises of less than 1m would result in the shifting of the tidal zone slightly, so that low tides are not so low and high tides are higher than they are today. This would result in a reduction of the time low tide reef breaks around the UK would work. Research suggests that there are more low tide than high tide reef breaks (which would see a corresponding increase in time available for surfing), resulting in a net loss of surf resource.
Added to this, sea level rise is likely to increase erosion at some surf beaches, which could make some beaches that back onto cliffs or sea walls unsurfable at high tide.
In some areas where erosion due to sea level rise threatens developed areas, coastal protection schemes may be introduced such as the building of breakwaters and sea walls. These can often lead to the extinction of surf spots, as has happened at Ponta Delgado in Madeira, The Cove in Washington and Stanley’s Reef in California.
The impact climate change will have on the wave climate of the UK is still unclear at present, bringing perhaps both positive and negative impacts. We could see an increase in the chances of stormy winters in the North Atlantic that generate bigger surf in the UK though not necessarily resulting in better conditions for surfers, increasing hurricane intensity that could bring bigger or more consistent autumn swells, changing storm tracks leaving popular surfing areas like the South West receiving less surf, and summer surf becoming more inconsistent.
Things you can do
Change to a renewable energy supplier.
Change to low energy light bulbs in your house.
When travelling to the beach, share the driving with your mates.
After watching TV or a surf dvd, turn stuff off rather than leaving it on standby.
Perhaps replace a flight to Bali with a road trip to France or Spain every once in a while.
When making a flask of post surf coffee/tea/hot chocolate in the winter only boil the water you need.
Save water. Each litre takes a lot of energy to supply and then treat – saving water is saving energy.
When planning a surf holiday, consider your destination and the impact of your method of travel. Carbon emissions from air travel are considerable.
In the short term, climate change is likely to result in slightly warmer waters around the UK. However, UK water temperatures are maintained because of the Gulf Stream bringing warm water from the tropics. It has been suggested that climate change could result in a reduction or shutdown of this warm current. If this were to occur, water temperatures around the UK would plummet.
The report also mentions the threat of ocean acidification. While this may not impact directly on surf in the UK, it is predicted to make conditions much harder for coral species to survive, threatening the reefs that produce world-class waves that are very popular with travelling UK surfers.
The report provides enough evidence to warrant action for us all to reduce the amount of energy we use. SAS are already encouraged by the development of the offshore renewable energy sector in the UK, which includes projects such as ‘Wavehub’ a wave energy site proposed off the north Cornish coast that could generate, clean and safe energy from the waves we ride to power our homes as well.
SAS are also urging surfers themselves to take action in reducing their own carbon footprints. In particular we’re encouraging them to car share more, take more surf trips in the UK and less long haul flights and switch to renewable energy suppliers.
Andrew Knights, SAS Scientific Officer says: “Becoming greener doesn’t necessarily mean you have to knit your own sandals or travel everywhere on a wooden bicycle! It’s about giving a bit more consideration to the impact we are having on the planet and acting accordingly. The surf we enjoy is a phenomenon of the natural world – it’s time to take steps to give a little back and safeguard its future”.
The report has been funded by The Crown Estate’s Marine Stewardship Fund.
Dr Carolyn Heeps, Head of Policy and Sustainable Development at The Crown Estate says: “We are pleased that more recreational sea users are aware of potential changes to the marine environment due to climate change and that they recognise the need to take positive action to reduce their impact on the marine environment.”
International Surfing Day in conjunction with the SURFRIDER FOUNDATION provides an unofficial, official surfers’ holiday that gives us a chance to promote and celebrate the sport while bringing awareness to the state of our oceans and beaches.