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2023 Impact: Wins in World Surfing Reserves

At Save The Waves Coalition, one of our proudest initiatives is our flagship program: World Surfing Reserves

As 2023 comes to a close, we’re looking back at the wins and achievements of a few World Surfing Reserves and what their works means for surf ecosystem conservation. 

This year, our local partners at the 12 World Surfing Reserves worked on projects and initiatives ranging from habitat restoration, water quality monitoring and improvement, coastal protection, policy action and community engagement. 

Some of our favorite moments include:

  • 8+ new surf breaks safeguarded with the dedication of the North Devon World Surfing Reserve 
  • 15-hectare coastal park declaration in Ericeira, Portugal
  • 120 native tree and plant restoration in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica with 653+ meters of new trails for the land-to-sea recovery of 2.5 hectares of coastal land
  • 9 restocked safety stations and accomplished surf etiquette program in Noosa, Australia 
  • 3+ years of detailed water quality monitoring pays off for potential treatment facility in Guarda Do Embaú + 46 local businesses certified in sustainability practices 

Continue reading below for the deep dive on each of these projects and more! 

Want to support the World Surfing Reserve program and its initiatives? Become a Member of the Coalition today.

North Devon, United Kingdom

Official dedication makes both community and national waves

North Devon was officially dedicated as the first World Surfing Reserve in the U.K. in May 2023. The North Devon WSR includes over 30 km of coastline and over 8 surf breaks, including Croyde, Saunton, Woolacombe and Lynmouth. 

The North Devon WSR kicked off their inaugural year with a commitment to protect the water quality around the surf ecosystems of the reserve, find solutions to climate change impacts, and ensure access to the surf for all people. In the coming year, they have big plans for a major water quality enhancement and erosion mitigation project that will aim to alleviate persistent water quality issues in the Reserve.

Ericeira, Portugal:

Success in formal declaration of 15-hectare coastal park

Ericeira is the second World Surfing Reserve, dedicated in 2011. Their World Surfing Reserve includes over 8 km of coastline and includes iconic breaks such as Ribeira d’Ilhas and Coxos. 

In a big win for Portuguese coastal conservation, the World Surfing Reserve officially declared a 15-hectare coastal area in partnership with the municipality. This project will:

  • Protect 15 hectares of coastal property for restoration and permanent preservation
  • Prevent encroaching development in the coastal zone
  • Create natural resiliency in the face of climate change
  • Provide access and recreation for the community.

Additionally, the Ericeira World Surfing Reserve is working with the municipality to introduce a new sewage treatment system to improve water quality in the area.

Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica:

Headway achieved in watershed restoration and building ecological literacy 

As the first World Surfing Reserve in Central America and dedicated in 2022, Playa Hermosa has made its mark as a community dedicated to protecting the coastal environment. 

The Playa Hermosa WSR planted over 120 native trees and plants in their Quebrado Ganado restoration project, with the help of dozens of community and youth volunteers. The replanting of native trees not only enhances the coastal habitat, but protects the watershed and waves from erosion. 

The team has also created an eco-literacy first for the World Surfing Reserves program: a network of trails throughout a patch of tropical dry forest in the Reserve with interpretive signs and guides. This new education initiative highlights the biodiversity in and around the World Surfing Reserves, with descriptions of regional flora and fauna. Overall, 653 meters of trails were created, allowing the recovery of 2.5 hectares connecting the land and ocean.

Noosa, Australia:

Ensuring access and well-being through their Surf Safety Program

Noosa identified early on in their stewardship plan that safety was a top priority. They wanted to ensure that the Noosa surfing community and its visitors were well versed in how to have a safe experience surfing in Noosa. Their innovative “Noosa Surf Code” sign installations went up in 6 different locations across the World Surfing Reserve, spreading awareness on etiquette in the surf lineup and how to enjoy the water safely.  These sign installations were accompanied by a digital marketing campaign that reached hundreds of thousands of people to promote a safe surfing summer in Noosa.

New life-saving equipment has also been supplied to major surf locations in the Reserve. This was the dream of Noosa’s founder, Phil Jarratt, when the WSR was dedicated in 2020. There are now 9 AED defibrillators with plans to add trauma kits to these safety stations. 

Guarda do Embaú, Brazil:

Striving for business sustainability and continued water quality improvement 

Guarda do Embaú, the ninth World Surfing Reserve, has continued to work diligently towards the long-term protection of their most important surf ecosystem attribute: the Rio do Madre. This river flows from the mountains of the Serra do Tabuleiro State Park down to the breaking waves at Guarda. Not only is it the heart and soul of the surf ecosystem, it is the most vital asset for water quality and public health. 

For the last three years, the Guarda do Embaú World Surfing Reserve has been collecting data around water quality.  While it takes significant amounts of time and dedication to manage and implement a water quality monitoring program, it provides the necessary basis for doing any restoration, policy or infrastructure work to make a real difference. Guarda is now using their dataset to advocate for systemic change and a new sewage treatment facility. 

The improved water quality and a healthier Rio do Madre will provide a better habitat for fish and wildlife, healthier water for at least 1,000 community members, and cleaner waves for generations to come.  Over 100 students from local schools have also participated in gathering data with the WSR to learn about how to protect water quality. 

Guarda WSR is also working directly with businesses in the community to adopt sustainable practices that protect the local resources and minimize single-use plastic.  This year, they certified 46 businesses representing 33% of established local businesses in the area.

Santa Cruz, California:

Rallying communities around climate resilience and solutions

The fourth World Surfing Reserve (and located in the backyard of Save The Waves office headquarters) worked hard in 2023 as the local community grappled with questions around climate resilience in the wake of devastating storms in January 2023. The Santa Cruz WSR and local Save The Waves staffers also participated in the revived O’Neill Coldwater Classic – a World Surf League QS 1000 surfing contest at famed Steamer Lane – as the official Nonprofit Partner

The Santa Cruz WSR continues its work to find solutions to climate change and sea-level rise with community partners and the City of Santa Cruz. Their recently renewed Local Stewardship Plan includes 3 key goals: 

  • Enhance Safety, Access & Inclusion
  • Improve Water Quality & Reduce Beach Trash
  • Strengthen Adaptation Response & Coastal Resilience of Surf Breaks

“Global Network, Local Advocates” : United by the Coalition Summit

To celebrate Save The Waves’ 20th Anniversary, we hosted our first-ever Coalition Summit in June 2023 in Northern California. All 12 WSRs were represented by a delegate of their Local Stewardship Council.

It was the first time in the history of the World Surfing Reserves program that we brought the entire network together in one place. 

Discussions and workshops took place for one simple goal: how to better preserve and steward the surf ecosystems of the World Surfing Reserves. 

United under one banner, and brought together by a passion for surfing and activism, every WSR is stronger for having the support of its sister reserves.

This World Surfing Reserve program is proudly supported by O’Neill. Save The Waves is an official environmental partner of O’Neill and the global surf brand is a steadfast supporter of the World Surfing Reserve network and its local initiatives.

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