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Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project

Developing an Ecosystem Services Framework for Prioritizing and Implementing Surf Protected Areas

waves crashing on the coastline with two surfers on the wave.

Group Members: Kort Alexander, Sachiko Lamen, Kiera Matiska, Conner Smith , Kirsten White

Faculty Advisors: Ben Halpern

Client: Surf Conservation Partnership




A quarter of the world’s surf breaks are located within a five kilometer radius of key biodiversity areas and nearly two-thirds have no formal protections. When a surf break becomes popular, increased traffic to the area can result in unsustainable development and environmental degradation. However, the overlap of surfing resources and high biodiversity areas presents a unique opportunity to leverage the economic and cultural value of surfing to advance marine conservation and support the livelihoods of coastal communities that are dependent on healthy marine ecosystems.

Many surf breaks overlap considerably with rich ecosystems like coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and mangrove forests. These habitats provide valuable natural services including carbon sequestration and coastal protection. There is a growing effort to value these ecosystem services as a tool to help inform decisions around protected area design and management. The Surf Conservation Partnership (SCP) currently employs the Surf Conservation Index (SCI) to determine priority regions for the development of surf protected areas (SPAs). To date, this method has been applied in Portugal, Fiji, and Costa Rica, with plans to expand into Brazil. This project will support current efforts of the SCP by integrating ecosystem services into their prioritization framework.

Specifically, this project will perform ecosystem service modeling to assess the carbon storage and coastal protection provided by surf ecosystems in Brazil. Additionally, we will develop a surf valuation model to estimate the local economic benefit of surf tourism. Integrating ecosystem services valuation into the current prioritization framework will help inform decisions around SPA design in Brazil and provide further incentive to protect these valuable ecosystems around the world.

Client Contact: Scott Atkinson

PhD Mentor: Allie Caughman

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