Help save the rainforest while surfing perfect waves in a tropical paradise. Sounds epic, right? Surfers are known for their deep connection with the ocean and appreciation for its preservation, but what happens when a small, rural town is suddenly bombarded with surf tourism? Prepare for a new landscape and new problems, because while tourism can provide some financial resources to a village in third-world countries, it can also alter the landscape as trees are knocked over for hotel development projects, landfills overflow with waste, and safety of the locals is sacrificed by water pollution and exploitation.
Every case is different, but patterns show that education on sustainable practices can increase the chances of any region’s survival. It’s time to take an eco-surf trip, to leave every beach cleaner than when we got there, and spread the word on sustainable surfing.
Whether we like to admit it or not, our carbon footprint while taking the surf trip of a lifetime can add up quickly if we consider the gas used for plane flights, bus trips, the energy used to accommodate our laptops and other electronic baggage. The average international flight contributes around five tons of CO²; an average American citizen produces 19.4 tons of CO² a year. As an environmental activist wanting to break free of the stereotype, and on a mission to live sustainably while scoring waves, I devoted my full attention to the most diverse and vital region for the health of our planet: the Atlantic Rainforest in Bahia, Brazil. Its consistent swell, warm water and good vibes turned a visit into a yearlong adventure deep in the jungle.
Not only do the innumerable tree species in the Atlantic Rainforest bring more oxygen to the world than any other source, the biodiversity of the region also contains some of the rarest and most beautiful species of plants and animals on the planet. Unfortunately, when you hear the word, “paradise,” it often comes with a risk of being endangered. Only 5% of the coastline’s original forests remain today due to deforestation as land owners continue to monocrop (an agricultural practice of planting one single crop, thus reducing biodiversity). Bahia’s agricultural history dates back for centuries when the Portuguese exploited Brazilian soils, capitalizing off of coffee plantations and causing the deforestation of large acres of land to make room for them. This threatened the soil with irreversible consequences. Environmental activists hope to mobilize people on two things: the fact that there is only a small percentage left and the dangers of global warming as these trees continue to fall.
Thankfully, surfers are uniting to do something about it. The Atlantic Rainforest Institution (ARFI) is a non-governmental organization active and committed to preserving the Atlantic Rainforest in Southern Bahia, Brazil. The most striking example of a conservation hotspot – with 95% of its original size destroyed during the last 500 years — Bahia remains very rich in biodiversity and under continued threat. ARFI is focused on the fact that rainforests help regulate the earth’s climate by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) – the main greenhouse gas. Saving forests is one of the fastest and most effective ways to stabilize global climate change and the local, truly rich biodiversity.
“It is a critical part of the larger solution, and action is required now,” ARFI insists, a Swiss organization co-founded by surfer and environmental activist, Chris Bachmann. He has channeled his passion for surfing into something much larger. He is now in talks with the United Nations in an effort to protect more land and conserve the little rainforest left standing. ARFI‘s educational efforts and social projects look to improve the lives of local people, while simultaneously educating foreigners traveling to the region – sometimes in the form of surfing, skateboarding, music and other community events.
When I first met Chris at Arte na Mata (“Art Jungle”), a breathtaking ecological resort that helps support the Atlantic Rainforest Institution‘s efforts, he warned me about the large snakes in the jungle and to be prepared to see the largest tropical creatures imaginable. Let’s just say I could be found with a machete in hand at all times. Anacondas were the least of my worries, as I came across traces of human trash and destruction in the most remote of areas.
The almost-pristine beaches were becoming littered by the trash washing ashore. Was every beach on the globe destroyed by our plastic dependency? If the cosmetic unease wasn’t enough, how about the sanitary concerns of surfing breaks near the river mouth? Naturally, the best waves break near a shark-infested port area of the small fishing village. With the town’s landfill piled near a river flowing into the sea, poisonous chemicals are seeping into the earth and downstream to the marine life. The latter concern of surfing in polluted water cannot be ignored.