What is the value of a wave?

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(The conversation via Reuters Connect) – Before COVID-19, global spending on surf tourism was estimated at $ 91 billion per year. And since the start of the pandemic, demand for surfing has exploded as people increasingly turn to outdoor activities.

But the benefits of surfing for human well-being are often not studied in economic terms. This is a major knowledge gap that we are now trying to fill.

Such research is important. Shoreline changes, such as dikes and groynes, can dramatically reduce the quality of surf waves. But the consequences of coastal development on surfing are often poorly understood and rarely quantified before the start of projects.

It is crucial that we understand the real value of surfing, before we lose the myriad of benefits it brings – not only to Australia’s 1.2 million active surfers, but to the hundreds of coastal towns where surfing takes place. -tends the local economy and way of life.

There are many studies on the economic value of Australian beach hobbies such as fishing, swimming and diving. But not for surfing.

Internationally, we know that surfing is a major direct contributor to the economy of places rich in waves. However, until recently, the value of surfing for human well-being was largely ignored.

This despite recent evidence indicating the positive social and health outcomes of surfing, including among veterans and chronically ill children.

The economics of surfing is an emerging area of ​​research that documents and quantifies the total economic value of surfing. This can include, for example, an increase in the price of accommodation near good quality stays or the social benefits that people derive from visiting surf beaches.

Building on the few previous economic studies of surfing in Australia, our research aims to calculate the total economic value of surfing.

Our upcoming study of the Noosa World Surf Reserve to date shows that surfing’s local economic contribution is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This in terms of the well-being of surfers, as well as direct expenditure on surfing and travel equipment.

Overseas, the economic contribution is a little clearer. A 2017 study used satellite imagery to show that economic activity grows faster near good quality surf spots, especially in developing countries like Indonesia and Brazil.

In the UK alone, the overall annual impact of surfing on the national economy is estimated at £ 5 billion (over AU $ 9 billion).

Related article: A Navigator’s Guide to the Waves

Swell waves are generally formed by winds blowing several kilometers offshore. It is perhaps easy to think that this natural and distant origin means that there is nothing we can do about the formation of waves.

But the truth is, surf waves are the product of complex interactions between waves, tides, currents, wind, and the shape of the seabed. Shallow coral reefs, headlands and sandbanks are responsible for creating much sought after waves.

By directly or indirectly affecting any of these factors, the quality of the waves has been altered for better or for worse.

The world famous Mundaka wave in northern Spain has temporarily disappeared because dredging from the nearby mouth changed ocean dynamics. This resulted in a decline in economic activity and the cancellation of the Billabong Pro World Championship in 2005 and 2006.

In the Portuguese island of Madeira, the construction of a rock face severely disrupted the formation of the Jardim do Mar wave in 2005, and a drop in local economic growth rates followed. In Peru, the extension of a fishing pier had a negative impact on Cabo Blanco, one of the best barrel waves in Peru, by shortening its length.

Closer to home, the Ocean Reef Marina, currently under construction in North Perth, will have a significant impact on three local surf spots. About 1.5 kilometers of mostly unmodified beaches are being redeveloped into a brand new marina.

Studies have shown that well-planned coastal management interventions can dramatically increase the benefits for surfers and non-surfers.

One of the most iconic examples is the “superbank” of Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast. There, a world-class wave forms with sediment from the river displaced via the Tweed Sand Bypass Project.

The project is expensive to operate, but its expense is offset by improving the quality of surfing and beach amenities, which underpin the local economy and the active, nature-based lifestyle for which the Gold Coast is famous.

Building on efforts almost 40 years ago to protect the iconic wave at Bells Beach in Victoria, Peru and New Zealand have granted legal protection to their surf spots under protection laws. the environment.

In practice, this means that threats to surf spots from coastal activities, such as sewage discharges or the construction of offshore structures, must be avoided or mitigated.

Similar recognition and valuation of surfing resources is needed and would be of great benefit to Australia.

A rigorous scientific assessment of the total economic value of surfing could be used to inform the cost-benefit analysis of coastal management programs. This can be erosion control to protect the coastline or building artificial surf reefs.

In these uncertain times of COVID-19, many of us cannot travel far yet. But with 85% of Australians living on the coast, many of us can still catch a wave on our doorstep – and it’s priceless.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022.


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