Citizens of Surf is a UN Decade of Ocean Science Project endorsed by the Early Career Ocean Professionals Programme. Its mission is to provide opportunities for surfers to take part in ocean science, and be an example of how co-designing projects across science and society can help transform humanity’s relationship with the ocean.
Despite surfers being a group of recreational ocean users spanning the globe, said to be 50 million individuals in total, it appears there is a gap when it comes to combining their sport with ocean science activities, in comparison to diving and sailing initiatives (Fox et al., 2021).
This is where Citizens of Surf comes in.
The project aims to equip surfers with the knowledge, understanding, support and tools to become active and engaged in marine citizen science, and create pathways for local surf communities to participate in the UN Decade of Ocean Science.
The team behind Citizens of Surf envision a world where those harnessing the power of the ocean and its waves, also contribute to understanding it better – and hence become part of the custodian groups who monitor, restore and protect it.
Angelique Pouponneau, Chief of Staff of UNSG’s Climate Action Team and former UN Ocean Decade Advisory Board member, acknowledges: “Surfers interact with the ocean on a day-to-day. They are like our human observation systems, our citizen scientists, and they can tell us if something is starting to feel off, starting to feel different. Surfers should mobilize and organize to make a strong voice and sound the alarm on the challenges facing the ocean. This can be in your local community, nationally, or internationally – many voices speaking in unison can have a great impact.”
With this in mind, Citizens of Surf is focussing on two areas of methodology – monitoring and restoration, whilst covering three key areas of research – biodiversity, climate change indicators and micro/invisible pollution. Coordinator of Citizens of Surf, Natalie Fox, conducted previous research on surfers, finding links between ocean literacy and surfing. Therefore this project is building on surfers’ knowledge of climate, weather, ecosystems and the human-ocean relationship and aims to utilize their own understanding of the local ocean.
This year, the project ran its first eDNA sampling workshop for surfers in the North Devon World Surf Reserve in order to test the method of collecting biodiversity data. The participants helped guide the session and learnt how to filter the sea water on the spot, after taking a few waves whilst collecting their water sample. It was proven it really is possible to go surfing and do citizen science at the same time.
Coordinator Natalie Fox says: “It was such a blessing to find Nature Metrics, our partner who sent the eDNA kit and did the analysis for fish species at their lab. They made everything efficient, easy, and affordable – as having enough financial resources to cover sampling tends to be one of the biggest hurdles for grassroots projects such as this. It was also great timing to work with the newly crowned North Devon World Surf Reserve, an initiative led by Save the Waves. The stewardship council helped recruit the participants from the local surf community, who are obviously very proud of their local surf ecosystem and keen to keep it in good health for generations to come.”
Citizens of Surf is holding a webinar on 12 December, in association with the ECOP Programme, and featuring special guests to facilitate a discussion on surfing citizen science and the project so far.
“As an ECOP myself, and someone just starting out in the marine science field (after a career change), the ocean is where I go, to remember why I’m doing this. Surfing is how I connect with the ocean, and it very clearly communicates what we need to pay attention to, through a sensory experience – I’m naturally tasting the water, feeling the temperature, noticing seabirds and other marine life and seeing changes; both rapid and over longer time periods. The aim for Citizens of Surf is to join the dots between reading waves, observing coastal ecosystems and contributing to ocean science. Collaborative projects like this might not have been done very much before, but it’s vital to work together to help safeguard our ocean waves with the communities that revere them.”
Tuesday 12 December 2023
16-17h UTC/WET – 17-18h CET