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CURL: Analyzing surfers’ exposure to chemical pollution in the ocean

Are surfers endangering their health while practicing their favorite activity? The ocean is polluted by chemicals, but there is currently no study showing their consequences on our body. The CURL project aims to assess swimmers’ and surfers’ level of exposure to chemical pollutants.

CURL: a project to better understand chemical pollution in seawater
and its impact on surfers’ health

Surfers are immersed all year round in coastal waters without knowing how healthy the water is.

Hydrocarbons, drugs, fertilizers – surfers and other watersports users and bathers are exposed to chemical pollutants without knowing their impact on the human body. To find out whether chemical ocean pollution has an impact on surfers’ health, Surfrider has launched the CURL experimental project

CURL aims to assess the level at which swimmers and surfers are exposed to chemicals found in coastal recreational waters. Benefiting from labeling and support by the Laboratory of Excellence LabEx COTE (Continental and Coastal Ecosystems), we will be supported by the BE (Biogeochemistry and Ecotoxicology unit) and LERPAC (Environment Resources Laboratory of Provence-Azur-Corsica) scientific teams from the French Institute for Marine Research (IFREMER) and the environmental Physicochemistry and Toxicochemistry (LPTC) team from the EPOC (Environments and Paleo-environments of the Oceans and Continents) laboratory (CNRS / University of Bordeaux). These experts will pool their skills, expertise and research capacity in terms of environmental toxicology and analytical chemistry.

The project will revolve around complementary and innovative activities ranging from “participatory science” to the development of specific sampling tools.

Participatory science at the heart of this experimental project!


Volunteer “Waterman Testers” are trained and equipped with sensors that will measure the concentrations of organic and metallic chemical pollutants in recreational coastal waters.  


A team of researchers and academics from UMR EPOC and Ifremer specializing in ecotoxicology will undertake the entire analytical component. 

Inform and disseminate

The data collected and analyzed will be shared using various communication and awareness channels (conferences, application, web page, articles, webinars, social networks, etc.).

How do we measure chemical pollution in the ocean?

Bathers and surfers equipped with “chemical” sensors

Surfrider provides 10 volunteer surfers and / or swimmers with a free “passive sampler kit”. In the water, the sensors will collect data to monitor the level of exposure during a session. Using the data collected, two types of pollutants will be sampled:

– organic micro-pollutants (pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, etc.),

– metallic pollutants (Al, Cd, Cr, Ni, Pb, etc.) present in the environment close to the user at the time of the session.

Once analyzed, the data will provide information on the chemical contamination of the environments in which the sensors have been immersed.

Following the results of this campaign to collect data on chemical pollution in the ocean, three actions could be implemented:

– a health risk assessment may be initiated within the competent bodies (ANSES, INSERM, etc.),

– the data provided will also help to convince coastal stakeholders of the need to fight effectively against this pollution,

– actions can be taken to alert decision-makers on the environmental and health risks with which we are potentially confronted, and to change the law for a better water quality. 

A collaborative project for a healthier ocean and healthier users

Since many years, nautical and recreational activities on European coasts have been increasing. At the same time, these coastal areas are constantly subject to anthropogenic pressures impacting aquatic ecosystems and ocean users’ health. Surfrider has been involved for almost 30 years on issues related to water quality and the health of ocean users, and aims to develop its expertise through an experimental project which will assess sea users’ exposure to chemical pollutants when they practice their activity. It is worth remembering that human and environmental health concerns are deeply connected, as highlighted by the emergence of the One Health Initiative, which recognizes the interconnection between human health, animals, plants and their environment.

Since the Ocean is the ultimate container of continental waters and their pollution, watersports users and bathers are exposed to chemical micro-pollutants that can affect their health.  

“Watersports users and bathers are exposed to chemical micro-pollutants that can affect their health”

It’s in the news!

France Info TV

Surfers are the sentinels of the marine environment” 

While there have been many studies on the heavy metals found in fish and the presence of plastic in the shallows, knowing how our health is affected when we bathe in water contaminated with heavy metals or when we eat fish which have fed on micro-plastics is a field of research that has yet to be explored.  

That is why Ifremer and the University of Bordeaux will be launching this summer, along with the Surfrider Foundation association, an original participatory science operation. A dozen volunteer surfers equipped with chemical sensors will serve as “sentinels” of pollution on different spots, from Brittany to the Mediterranean. The association head explains to Sciences et Avenir magazine that this is “one way of knowing the level of human exposure to this pollution so that we can better assess the health risks”.

Read the article (in French): Surfers equipped with chemical sensors to measure bathing water quality  

What risks does exposure to these pollutants entail? For the moment, few epidemiological and eco-toxicological studies exist on this subject. The association is working in partnership with Ifremer and the University of Bordeaux EPOC laboratory to characterize sea-users’ exposure, both for bathers and other users: surfers, windsurfers, divers, etc. ” We will take over from the participatory science component and equip users with sensors identical to the POCIF sensors used for the DCE (characteristic low-flow rate) and others (DGT) to measure heavy metals, the project coordinator explains. In total, we will be using 7 different sensors to perform a global screening of the pollution : drugs, pesticides, cosmetics, hydrocarbons, etc. The idea is to do an experimental study to find out if there is a health risk linked to this chemical pollution.

Read the article (in French): Bathing waters: chemical pollution and litter are not taken into account  

“Along with Ifremer, we have undertaken a review of scientific articles on the impact of marine chemical pollution on humans and what have we found? Virtually nothing!” Marc Valmassoni, from Surfrider Association, is astonished. This opens up an amazing field of research. In association with the top-rated (Labex) laboratory COTE (Continental and Coastal Ecosystems) of the University of Bordeaux and Ifremer, the association will equip its surfing members with chemical sensors in order to better understand summer visitors’ bathing environment. “Starting this summer, around ten surfers will be practicing their sport with these devices in Brittany, the Mediterranean and the south-west Atlantic coast” announces Marc Valmassoni.  

Read the article (in French): Will you be swimming in healthy seawaters this summer?  

Project partners