Many of the best surfing destinations around the planet are known for more than just their epic swell. Some of the most unique ecosystems lie beyond the surf and sand.
Many of the best waves are in the tropics. The equatorial region between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn receives constant, year-round energy from the sun. This solar-input fuels tropical storms, creating swells, and the world’s most productive and diverse ecosystems: coral reefs and rainforests.
Intuitively, surf destinations like the South Pacific – Indonesia, the Philippines, New Caledonia, Samoa and Fiji – are not only known for iconic waves, but also the most expansive coral reefs and ancient tropical rainforests.
It’s no coincidence that both of these ecosystems are teeming with unique life. While shifting plates and glaciations have changed the landscape of most of the planet, this region has remained intact over recent geologic time. For example, the Teman Negara rainforest in Malaysia is 130 million years old.
As a result of millions of years of stability and isolation, the South Pacific has become the birthplace of many unique species and a region of high biodiversity. The Philippines, New Caledonia, Polynesia-Micronesia, Sundaland, and Wallacea are regions of high endemism, meaning species here are unique and can be found nowhere else in the world.
The South Pacific isn’t the only surf destination characterized by high biodiversity. Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, and Peru have great waves and unique species. These areas are also home to the Neotropical Rainforest of Central and South America, the largest expanse of rainforest in the world.
Many spectacular surf spots are also biodiversity hotspots, or biologically rich areas that are also threatened. Every second an area of rainforest the size of one American football field is deforested. This loss affects not only the ecosystem, but also the people and communities that rely on the rainforest for its resources – which includes us.
The rainforest provides the only source of natural rubber in the world. Over half of the world’s plant and animal species come from the rainforest. Microorganisms and plants from the rainforest comprise medicines and cancer fighting drugs. We heavily rely on the delicate ecosystems of the rainforest often without realizing.
The next time you find yourself in Costa Rica or New Caledonia waiting for the next set, take a look at the lush landscape behind you. The rainforest has persisted through millions of years of changing climate and splitting continents, yet deforestation is threatening its survival. If we don’t preserve rainforests today, we may lose this vital ecosystem forever.
Visit cuipo.org/saveameter to join the fight against deforestation.