Tackling Water Quality and How You Can Help Keep the Lineup Clean

The importance of water quality

Polluted and contaminated water quality can have a huge impact not only on the coastal environment but can also have negative impacts on marine life and even the health of surfers.

Save The Waves tackles water quality issues as one of our six main threat categories in our mission to protect surf ecosystems. In many of our global programs, water quality monitoring is an integral part of stewardship projects.

For example, the Clean Up Cowells initiative is a successful project from the Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve and, today, the Guarda do Embaú World Surfing Reserve monitors the health of the Do Madre River for upstream contaminants that could impact the surf ecosystem.

You Can Help Safeguard Water Quality

From runoff, oil spills, algae blooms, and sewage contamination, there are many ways water quality can be impacted from both natural causes and human error. 

At Save The Waves, we need your help to better track issues as they happen in real-time. 

Through our Save The Waves App, you can immediately report water quality problems: take a photo, select your water quality issue and geotag your location. 

How does this help? Data collected from surfers, beach-goers, and citizen scientists (like you!) give us and our local partners a better understanding of issues facing our coastlines – and a better chance at solving those threats.

Take Action: Examples of Water Quality Issues

How To: Recognize Oil Spills

Oil spills most commonly come from ships, boats, and oil rigs. Oil spill effects can look like a black, viscous substance stuck to the sand, or dark and shiny coats or slicks on the surface of the ocean. Birds, crabs, seals and other coastal and marine animals affected by it have black stains or darker coloring in their bodies.

Please remember that oil is an extremely hazardous substance and you should avoid any exposure to it. Do not enter contaminated sites or the ocean if there are any signs of oil. Pictures should always be taken at a safe distance from the impacted area. 

How To: Recognize Sewage Spills

A sewage spill is when sewage spills into a body of water or onto land. An easy way to identify sewage spills is by the smell. If you see water running into the ocean that you suspect is sewage, see if the water smells bad or rotten. (If the water doesn’t smell like sewage it’s likely runoff which you can also report run-off in the Save The Waves App).

If the water smells like sewage try and identify the source, i.e., where it is coming from. Sewage spills can happen when sewage pipes are broken or clogged causing leaks or overflows.

 If you are able to identify the source of the sewage, take a picture and post it to the App. If you are unable to find the source, you can instead document where the sewage is entering the ocean or waterway.

How To: Recognize Runoffs

Runoff is any water that runs into the ocean. Some common types of runoff that can be potentially harmful are storm water runoff coming from roads, washing over fields with pesticides, and runoff from contaminated/trashed watersheds. The key cues to identify whether it’s dangerous (and worth reporting) is if the water looks shiny with oils, smells bad, or is a color that isn’t common to sediment in the area (for example, white-gray).

How To: Recognize Algae Blooms

Algae blooms can be harmful to humans and wildlife and are caused by colonies of algae – simple plants that live in the sea and freshwater – growing out of control. Algae blooms can cause the color of the seawater to change to brownish-red.

While the only way to properly identify algae blooms is through sample testing, it’s still helpful to report suspected algae blooms on the Save The Waves App. Save The Waves can report suspected algae blooms to the proper authorities in the area.


Save The Waves App crowdsources data from coastal users (like you!) who identify coastal threats. We work hand-in-hand with Coalition partners to address reported issues.

Get Started: Download the Save The Waves App today!

Scroll to Top