Beyond Great Waves: Protecting Surf Ecosystems

Save The Waves recently returned to Guarda do Embaú in Brazil to meet with the Local Stewardship Council of the ninth World Surfing Reserve. Conservation Programs Manager Trent Hodges checked in on the progress of the stewardship planning, conservation projects and the dedication on October 25-27th.

What is a surf ecosystem?

Surf ecosystems are integrated natural and social systems, embodying the special relationship between the ocean, waves, watersheds, plants, animals and people. It’s all interconnected.

Take a look at the Guarda do Embaú World Surfing Reserve, an incredible example of a surf ecosystem. The coast and surrounding lands are a biodiversity hotspot, it contains crucial geophysical factors that contribute to the surf, and it has a strong local culture that values surfing and marine resources.

Geophysical Landscape:

The world class waves are shaped and cultivated by the Rio do Madre River whose waters flow down from the mountains in the Serra do Tabuleiro State Park. The fluvial sediment provided by the river creates a series of shifting sand dunes that contribute to waves up and down the beach around Guarda.

Local Culture & Livelihoods:

The ancient tradition of tainha fishing not only supports the local fishermen, it is a strong foundation of community bonding. When the tainha arrive, everyone from the community joins the fishermen in pulling the nets from the ocean, harvesting the bounty and celebrating the catch. 

Surf culture has permeated Guarda and is both a beloved part of the social fabric and a beneficial aspect of the local economy. Now a stronghold of Brazilian surfing, Guarda hosts several surf competitions and has raised world-class surfers such as Jacqueline Silva and the late Ricardo dos Santos.


The temperate climate, riparian river habitat and vast swaths of Atlantic rainforest make Guarda home to many unique and threatened plant and animal species.

When we protect surf ecosystems, we protect so much more than waves. The Guarda do Embaú World Surfing Reserve requires active conservation strategies to ensure this thriving surf ecosystem remains intact.

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