What are surf protected areas? How do they work?

The outline and analysis below is a Coalition collaboration with Save The Waves, Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA) and Conservamos For Naturaleza. Our goal is to:

What does it mean to have a surf break legally protected?

A surf break is legally protected when:

Formal regulations are in place and effectively enforced, that proactively prevent activities that could negatively impact the surf break’s physical components and the enabling conditions for its safe recreational use. Authoritative bodies and their responsibilities related to protecting surf breaks must be clearly defined, and sanctions must be established and imposed on those responsible for any harmful effects.

Surf breaks can be legally protected on multiple levels.

It is critical to protect the physical components, yet surf breaks must have a holistic approach that considers both human well-being and biodiversity conservation.

How to protect surf breaks?

We’ve outlined five strategies to help protect surf breaks and surf ecosystems. 

A surf break must be recognized in formal regulations as a stated objective of protection and the area encompassing its components should be geographically defined.

Prohibitions must be established to prevent activities that could negatively impact the surf break’s physical components and the conditions on which wave quality depends.

A. Block the swell window and the wave course

B. Impact sedimentation processes

C. Change the bathymetry of the surf break area

D. Shift or block the wind corridor

Also, regulations must be in place that require all proposed infrastructure projects in coastal areas to demonstrate a finding of no significant impact to any surf breaks in the vicinity.

Regulations that protect the enabling conditions for the recreational use of the surf break must be implemented.

These should include:

A. Prohibit activities that are dangerous for surfers (eg. fishing lines in the course of the wave, exposed pipelines in the sea bed, maritime transport routes that could cause collisions);

B. Recognize by law the public’s right to access the surf break; and through provision of multiple zones where the public can easily access the coast and waves.

C. Develop, and effectively enforce, water quality regulations that both prohibit and monitor point source and non-point source pollution.

Regulations must exist that protect the integrity of the surf break and the surrounding environment including the landscape and biodiversity, as well as the cultural and historical values associated with the surf break. 

When protected and properly managed, surf ecosystems can contribute to ecosystem conservation and sustain the quality of surf breaks thus maintaining or enhancing sustainable local economies on which communities depend for their livelihoods.

Governing bodies and their responsibilities related to protecting surf breaks must be clearly defined, and penalties must be established and imposed on those responsible for any harmful effects.

To increase compliance, civil society organizations should be strengthened as they play a key role holding decision-makers accountable.

What are the main legal avenues to protect surf breaks?

Legal protection can occur at different levels of government (national, regional or local) and can be based on a diversity of legal schemes.

The main legal avenues or strategies to protect surf breaks are:

A. Development of Specific Legislation for surf break protection

B. Marine spatial planning and coastal management plans include surf breaks

C. Marine Protected Area Integration

D. Historic & Cultural Preservation Programs

Surf breaks around the world

Across the globe, surf ecosystems are thriving and under threat. Some communities are beginning their process for designations, are pending approval for long-term protection or celebrating hard-won victories. It is important to note the myriad of approaches towards protecting surf breaks – the solution differs from one region to the next.

Here are just a few examples of threats and solutions. 

Download “Protect Your Waves: Surf Break Legal Protection” PDF document, now available as a part of this collaboration. Please feel free to use and adapt this information to protect surf breaks in your community.

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