For most, the term deforestation inevitably conjures images of large swaths of the Amazon either cut or burned down to make space for farmers and ranchers, displacing the rainforest’s natural inhabitants in the process. Few think, at first blush anyway, of the ongoing destruction of offshore kelp forests and other forms of underwater flora occurring as a direct result of climate change and warming seas.
But, a new project initiated by the good folks at Sustainable Surf – the same non-profit that created the surfboard certification program known as the ECOBOARD Project – hopes to put surfers on the front lines of efforts to combat ocean deforestation and habitat loss.
SeaTrees is the first program of its kind built specifically to galvanize the global surf community to help fund regeneration projects from mangrove forests in Indonesia to kelp forests in California. “It’s designed to help reverse climate change by sequestering CO2 in the most threatened ecosystems on the planet – while also catalyzing a chain-reaction of “positive” local benefits that improve water quality, biodiversity of plants and animals, (as well as) protection from storms (and creating) economic opportunities for local communities,” Sustainable Surf’s site reads.
According to Sustainable Surf co-founder Kevin Whilden, SeaTrees is the non-profit’s next big venture with a mission to change surf culture at large by actively participating in efforts toward greater global sustainability.
“SeaTrees is about planting and protecting coastal ecosystems: mangrove forests, kelp forests, coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and ridge-to-reef watersheds. We look for ocean-connected projects that have multiple sustainability benefits according to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and operated by experienced project developers with a good track record,” Whilden told me. “SeaTrees is the conduit. It is a storytelling vehicle that connects directly to action. It’s a vision of what it means for surfers to protect ocean health directly and in tangible ways.”
So how exactly can surfers get involved? First and foremost, for every new follower gained on SeaTrees’ Instagram in the month of June, Sustainable Surf will plant one mangrove tree on the Indonesian island of Biak – one of the four initial projects SeaTrees is supporting. The goal is to hit 10,000 followers by the end of the month and plant 10,000 new mangrove trees. (Follow here!)
In addition, Sustainable Surf has commissioned artists (including Andy Davis and Josie Iselin) to donate their work toward collaboration products like autographed books, nickel-plated lapel pins, and reusable straws – the proceeds of which go toward planting sea trees. And those interested can also donate funds in an effort to “wipe out [their] impact,” or carbon footprint. A ten dollar donation, according to SeaTrees’ site, would “wipe out” the impact of a five-board quiver or a nine-hour flight for a surf trip. You can also make a $25 donation toward a medium length flight (less than 18 hours) or a $50 donation for a long flight (less than 28 hours).
Whilden explained that the SeaTrees initiative is a direct result of Sustainable Surf’s Deep Blue Survey, which launched back in 2017. It showed that the surfers who responded were acutely aware of the impacts of climate change and highly engaged on the issue. That level of engagement was further underlined by another survey undertaken by Scripps Institute of Oceanography researcher Cynthia Hsia earlier this year. According to Whilden, one of the biggest takeaways of that second survey was that surfers overwhelmingly responded that individuals are most responsible for solving climate change, whereas the majority of non-surfing respondents said it was the government’s job. SeaTrees represents one-way surfers can take climate adaptation and ocean health into their own hands in a tangible way.
“I personally believe that surfers have the right idea,” said Whilden. “We can’t expect politicians to do something that their voters are unwilling to do themselves. There needs to be a positive example of people taking meaningful action to protect ocean health and solve climate change, and who better than surfers to do it?”