A couple of months ago, I was driving home from university when a bumper sticker on the truck in front of me caught my attention. It read: ‘Fuck the whales! Save the Cowboys!’
‘These days everybody wants to save something. Save the whales and save the snails, save those bees and save these trees…,’ to quote the late American stand-up comedian George Carlin. ‘Leave nature alone,’ he said, ‘don’t you understand that meddling with nature is what got us in trouble in the first place!’
Good point George, but we love meddling with marine ecosystems and poisonous cave frogs. And we’re good at it, too! Since this is the sad reality we are facing, we might as well try and save the planet or at least a small part of it. Baby steps! Like these British dudes from Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) who are currently campaigning for the protection of waves in the UK. For more information about the initiative and for signing the Protect Our Waves Petition, visit the SAS website.
Why protect waves?
Ask yourself how fish and other marine species would feel if you took away their garden, the waves. These beautiful blue walls that keep rolling in relentlessly with the swell and wind and never cease kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times they are sent away. Waves play a very important and necessary role in the ecosystem we call ‘Earth’, our home, as they transfer the sun’s energy around the globe. At present, surfing waves in the UK don’t benefit from any legal protection and are under threat from three sources: new structures and developments; pollution including sewage and littering; and restricted access. With no existing laws to protect surfing spots, waves around the UK could face the same fate as Harry’s off Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico, a big-wave surfing spot that was replaced by rock jetties for a new receipt terminal of liquid natural gas (read the full Framed article here).
Identifying the main threats
Offshore breakwaters. As nicely (and sadly) illustrated by the rock jetties of Ensenada, offshore structures such as concrete breakwaters represent the most common way by which surfing waves are broken and once they are, they are gone forever. Another example is the building of breakwaters to prevent waves from cresting close to harbours and fishing ports and unloading their energy in areas where people want to keep sailing boats and yachts. In 2008, Brighton faced a proposed expansion of its Marina. Local surfers and members of the public led a massive campaign in an effort to save one of the most popular surfing spots on England’s southern coast. The town council of Brighton finally rejected the planning application.
Offshore renewables. No surf would be possible without energy generated by the sea; the same energy we can re-direct from waves, wind and the tide and transform into electricity via offshore wind farms. SAS has produced a comprehensive guide aimed at developers of offshore renewables. It is the first document to promote the surfing community as an important stakeholder in this sector and works within the existing Environmental Impact Assessment. Sites of special surfing interest, which should be avoided, are highlighted to developers.
The idea is not to predict whether wave energy converters are going to ruin waves. As this is not a straightforward assessment, it should rather be based on a case-by-case approach. If used effectively, the SAS guide could not only help along the planning process for suitable offshore developments, but also serve as a conservational barrier to support the protection of established surfing spots. Check out existing case studies of ten UK waves here.
You only protect what you love, and if developers have never set foot on a surfboard, you can’t blame them for not taking surfing waves into account. SAS is hoping to increase awareness, not only among the surfing community and the broader public, but also among developers to help them understand the value waves have to surfers, locals and visitors.
Sewage. The biggest challenge the UK is facing in terms of pollution is its Combined Sewage Overflow, an emergency outlet for overloading sewage systems which annually discharges 31 000 litres of raw sewage and wastewater into rivers. The contaminated water can’t physically alter waves, but would you want to surf in a sea creeping with lead, mercury, zinc, pesticides, fertilisers and nuclear waste?
Loss of economic value. The sea, along with its waves, is important to local coastal communities in an economical, environmental, social and cultural way. There are an estimated 500,000 regular surfers in the UK and many more thousand surf-bound tourists flying in from mainland Europe. The economic value of the surf retail sector was estimated at £200 million in 2007. The overall turnover from the surfing industry in Cornwall alone (£64 million) surpassed the sailing industry by roughly 20%. Although surfing may not (yet) generate a high national revenue, its economical value for local communities is non-debatable.
Refuge. Rythm. Religion. Recess. Sacred ground. Common ground. Proving ground. Playground. That is what waves mean to people in the Save the Waves Coalition clip.
What do they mean to you?