This is not a “gloom and doom” article just for environmentalists. All surfers need to wake up and recognize that coral reefs are severely threatened by the human emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. This causes ocean acidification and ocean warming, and it directly threatens our waves and the sport of surfing itself.
A recent report suggests that 90% of coral reefs worldwide will be threatened with extinction by the year 2030. Can you imagine a world with few living coral reefs? It will happen within your lifetime. Is this the legacy you want to give to future generations of surfers?
Living corals make their skeletal structure from calcium carbonate, which dissolves as the ocean becomes more acidic. Oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere to make carbonic acid in a process similar to making carbonated soda water. Unfortunately, humans are emitting an extraordinary amount of CO2, which is acidifying the oceans at the fastest rate in the Earth’s geologic history. This will have unknown and terrible consequences to ocean biology and all calcifying organisms in the sea.
Corals are also threatened by ocean warming and human activities such as over-fishing and pollution, forming a “triple whammy” of impacts. When coral reefs die, the reef structures are eaten by mollusks, fish, and other grazers, along with mechanical erosion from waves and chemical dissolution from an acidic ocean. This erosion can rapidly destroy special coral formations that form surf breaks like Teahupoo and Cloudbreak.
For the first time, surfers will explore these threats to coral reefs at the “Future of Surfing Is Not Disposable” conference on February 15th at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, CA. This conference is open to the public, and we invite you to attend. Dr. David Kline will present his research on corals in a talk titled, “The fate of coral reefs in a high carbon dioxide future – and what it might mean for our favorite reef breaks.”
The conference will also focus on the solutions to these problems, and discuss how surfers can become the leaders in meeting these threats. Each of us can make a big difference in solving this problem, because solutions start with individuals reducing their personal emissions. Indeed, we need to take action. If we sit around waiting for governments to do it, corals don’t stand a chance.
Fortunately, leadership examples come from within surfing itself. In 2007, Kelly Slater went historically carbon neutral by first adding up all of the CO2 emissions from surf travel for his career. He then purchased carbon offsets from a reforestation project in Nicaragua that is also a biodiversity hotspot. Kelly’s actions go far beyond the standard practice of offsetting only current-year CO2 emissions. With all of the global attention on climate change, there are extremely few examples of any person, company, or institution going historically carbon neutral, but Kelly Slater did it seven years ago.
The first step to solving this problem starts with making lifestyle choices that will reduce our CO2 emissions while also saving money and improving our quality of life. These include growing our own food, which reduces emissions from transportation and fertilizer, and also has health benefits. We can install energy efficiency and rooftop solar in our homes, which saves money from energy bills and comes with thousands of dollars of tax credits and utility rebates. We can use water more efficiently, especially if you live in SoCal where our water is pumped from hundreds of miles away at a huge energy cost. This will also help us survive the coming mega-drought. You can even buy a surfboard with 40% less lifecycle CO2 emissions.
The actions needed to reduce our CO2 emissions are worthwhile regardless of whether you care about carbon or global warming. Who doesn’t want to save money or eat healthy local produce? But if you are now concerned about the future of coral reefs, or global climate change in general, you can do something about it that will also have immediate benefits to your quality of life.
These solutions are just the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg. There are many more, and it just takes a willingness to be personally involved in the solutions. We invite you to attend the conference and become part of the discussion. Please join us in living an ocean-friendly lifestyle. We call this a Deep Blue Life.
Kevin Whilden is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sustainable Surf, a non-profit that seeks to be the catalyst that transforms surf culture and industry into a powerful community that protects the ocean playground.