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Protect the coast by safeguarding the waves: the example of the Azores

This article was written at the initiative and with the help of Paulo de Melo, volunteer of the Surfrider Europe chapter in the Azores.

Surfing and ocean protection are undeniably linked. This is why Surfrider Europe, which was created by a group of surfers, has always wished to preserve this particular DNA: many wave lovers still get involved with us to safeguard their playground, while protecting the environment. This is the case in the Azores, where local volunteers have been campaigning for several years against the disappearance of their regional spots. Among other things, they have succeeded in getting the protection of these spots included in the islands Marine Spatial Planning. A great breakthrough which is not only ecological but also social and economic!

Surfrider Europe in the Azores: a branch particularly committed to wave protection

Remember, at the end of 2012, the Coastal Defenders were about to lose their fight in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. The extension of the fishing port of Rabo de Peixe, a small town on the island of San Miguel, had just been accepted by the authorities, contributing to the disappearance of the world-class waves forming on the neighboring spot. Beyond the environmental damage caused by such a project, the islands authorities’ decision also put an end to the social benefits of the wave, as a place where surfers and the village inhabitants could meet and talk together.

The defeat, however, did not discourage Surfrider Europe’s Azorean volunteers. On the contrary, they have since then widened their struggle, demanding that the safeguarding of the waves be integrated into the regional Marine Spatial Planning (MSP).

Protecting waves as part of the Marine Spatial Planning

In order to make the best use of its maritime areas and their resources, the European Union has been developing, over the past ten years, a new strategy for the management of its waters. Through the establishment of measures within the Atlantic Strategy and the adoption of the European Maritime Spatial Planning Directive in 2014, the community institutions are increasingly seeking to maximize economic potential and social responsibility for the oceans in a sustainable and respectful manner, while reducing any conflicts between its users.

Paulo, volunteer of the Surfrider Europe chapter in the Azores

To do this, decision-making has to be improved: Surfrider Europe considers it essential to fully involve all stakeholders and decision-makers in the process of defining and distributing activities within the different maritime zones. And surfers are part of this group! This is the context in which “the Surfrider Foundation Europe’s chapter in the Azores required to the Azorean government to implement and include waves and surf spots in the MSP in order to protect and reduce potential conflicts between different uses,” explains Paulo, volunteer of the Surfrider’s Europe chapter in the Azores.

Real progress in the Azores: wave users now taken into account in management of the island’s Marine Spatial Planning

While the Member States of the Union establish this planning every two to three years, “We were very pleased with the receptivity of the Regional Secretariat for the Sea, Science and Technology, which accepted this request to implement and to integrate surfing in the regional MSP,” said Paulo. 

This led to collaboration between the decision-making bodies and the Azorean volunteers of Surfrider Europe. Information collected by those practicing water sports on all the regional surf spots to be protected was shared with the Regional Directorate for Sea Affairs – the government’s planning entity. In doing this, the volunteers helped to get these areas included on a GIS map, a database useful for building future MSP. “We see it as extremely important to supply the planning entity with information in order for them to actually get this knowledge. This is also important in order to make known the force of engagement coming from surfers and making us a stakeholder to be reckoned with,” emphasizes the Azorean volunteer. A great step forward and a new hope for the protection of waves and the ocean all over the world!

Thanks to Paulo and the Azores chapter for their commitment!