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09 • 23 • 2021

Sea Level Rise and Surfing

By Stefanie Sekich-Quinn

Surfers and beach-goers are ‘canaries in a coal mine’ when it comes to threats to our ocean, waves and beaches.  We are the first to see impacts from pollution, poorly planned coastal development, algae blooms, and obstructed beach access.  And as our climate continues to change, we will undoubtedly see more impacts to ocean and coastal recreation.   Simply put, climate change will affect everything from sandcastle building to surfing. 

Scientists predict that sea levels could rise up to six-feet by 2100.  An increase this large will swallow beaches—impacting public access, beach recreation, and healthy ecosystems. Unfortunately surfing will bear the brunt of rising seas.  In areas where the seafloor is sandy and flat (a beach break), the wave may break further inshore, thus changing the size and shape of the wave. In areas where the seafloor is uneven and rocky (a reef break), higher sea levels will inundate the reef, leaving less area for the wave to break and increasing the possibility that the wave might not break at all.  

In fact, research indicates that 80% of surf breaks in California will be unsurfable with just three-feet of sea level rise. As sea levels rise, the daily tide range will significantly change, making low tides and high tides much higher in the future.  The change in tides means surf breaks that are best at low tides could disappear altogether. Depending on how much sea levels rise, keep in mind six-feet by 2100, surf spots around the world are at great risk.

While losing our surf breaks is jarring, we can do something about it!  We must urge our decision-makers to take bold action to curb climate change.  Time is of the essence and our elected officials must act quickly, and courageously, to reduce greenhouse gases so we can slow down the global warming process and limit future sea level rise in order to save our waves.  

Help save our waves by urging your Congressional representatives to pass the Ocean Based Climate Solution Act. This groundbreaking legislation gives us a shot at protecting our future and ocean playground.