Coral reef ecosystems are of a significant importance to society, with billions of people relying on them for protection against weather events, for the provision of protein sources, and for economic survival tied to fisheries, eco-tourism, and surfing. Yes, even surfonomics is a real thing. In recent years, coral reefs have been in decline around the globe and are degrading at a rapid rate. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), in 2002, an estimated fifty-eight percent of all reefs were threatened by human activities with more recent reports suggesting that nearly 60% of existing coral reef systems will be gone by the year 2030. The cool thing though, is that it’s not too late and this decline can be reversed or ameliorated by effective action and legislative policy based on evidence-based conservation methods.
Since reefs produce some of the best surf spots in the world, we’re overdue to take a look at what might be at stake and what a loss of coral reefs might mean for the future of surfing. For starters, the effects of both anthropogenic activity and subsequent climate-related changes are putting surfing at increasing risk since good waves are strongly related to healthy oceans and coastlines. Coral reefs play a significant role in this. So with climate change and human activity creating major shifts in coastal ecosystems (sea level rise, ocean warming and acidification, etc) there is the potential for a decline in the health of local waters, beaches, and aquatic ecosystems that could result in diminished ability to surf many spots and subsequent loss of local surfing communities and the surrounding culture. If you’re not convinced yet, take a look at the Caribbean or a peek at the Great Barrier Reef over the last few decades, which might just be in its final terminal stage with an estimated 40-50% decrease in coral cover since the 1980’s and an estimated 29% of shallow water corals having died from bleaching in 2016.