Our oceans and coasts are under siege due to rapid climate change. Extreme weather events, sea level rise and ocean acidification are putting our coastlines at risk, impacting everything from beachgoing to ocean recreation. Climate change impacts are also increasingly taking a devastating toll on coastal economies and local communities.
By 2050, scientists estimate that 90% of coral reefs will die off from ocean warming and acidification due to climate change. In addition, warming water temperatures from climate change will produce more harmful algae blooms, resulting in closed beaches, killed wildlife, and severe illnesses to surfers and swimmers.
It’s also predicted that three feet of sea level rise will completely wipe out 87% of California’s best surf breaks.
But it is not too late to take action on climate change! Scroll to the bottom of this page for resources on what we can do right now to slow down climate change.
Learn more about climate change and how ‘adaptation’ measures can proactively protect our coasts and oceans against the threats of climate change. For local news, here are some of the latest blog updates from Surfrider’s staff scientists:
What is Climate Change?
Climate change, weather, and global warming are three very different terms that are often used interchangeably. So let us break down what the three terms really mean, and how these terms impact our oceans, waves, and beaches. These definitions come directly from Nasa’s webpage on Global Climate Change
Climate Change: a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates.
- Changes observed in Earth’s climate since the early 20th century are primarily driven by human activities (particularly fossil fuel burning)
- Natural processes can also contribute to climate change, including internal variability (e.g., cyclical ocean patterns like El Niño, La Niña and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and external forcings (e.g., volcanic activity, changes in the Sun’s energy output, variations in Earth’s orbit)
Weather: Refers to atmospheric conditions that occur locally over short periods of time—from minutes to hours or days
- Examples include rain, snow, clouds, winds, floods or thunderstorms
Global Warming: Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere
- It is most commonly measured as the average increase in Earth’s global surface temperature
- Since the pre-industrial period, human activities are estimated to have increased Earth’s global average temperature by about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), a number that is currently increasing by 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade
How does Climate Change Affect Oceans and Beaches?
The ocean is the world’s largest carbon “sink”, absorbing 25-30% of all the atmospheric carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels (NOAA). Since the industrial revolution, carbon emissions have skyrocketed, which causes a cascade of issues for our oceans and beaches
As a result of the ocean having to absorb significantly more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it is becoming more acidic. This affects marine life, such as corals and shellfish. In addition, the surface temperature of ocean is also becoming warmer due to a process called thermal expansion, which has led to the melting of glaciers and a rise in sea level. With rising temperatures comes rising sea levels, which puts our beaches at a much greater risk for erosion and storm surges.
The rate of sea level rise is accelerating: it has more than doubled from 0.06 inches per year throughout most of the twentieth century to 0.14 inches per year from 2006–2015.https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-sea-level
Though 0.14 inches seems small, if the rate of ocean rise continues to change at this pace, sea levels will rise 26 inches (65 centimeters) by 2100 (NASA). Scientists at the EPA have already seen increases of 6-8 inches in parts of California, which is enough to cause significant problems for coastal cities.
There are a lot of predictive models out there for sea level rise and changes in surface temperatures, which scientists have combined into an overall “vulnerability” scale to our coastline. NOAA has developed a map showing the relative vulnerability of our nation’s coasts to sea level rise.
So…What Can We Do?
Here is what we can do as an organization, as a community, and as individuals to mitigate the impacts of climate change on our coastline:
- Coastal Managed Shoreline Retreat – Surfers’ Point : Restore our beaches back to their natural state complete with dunes and native vegetation. Check out this video from KCET on Phase I of the project
- The key to this process is the ‘retreat’ of the beach itself
- Meaning, relocating hard structures (pathways, parking lots, buildings) further inland and replacing those structures with sand dunes and native vegetation
- The dunes act as a natural buffer to king tides and rising sea levels, but there needs to be space for the beach to gradually retreat back as sea level rise increases
- The key to this process is the ‘retreat’ of the beach itself
- Transition to a carbon free lifestyle
- Hold on to your butts!
- Cigarette butts are composed of cellulose acetate, a non-biodegradable plastic, which can take up to 25 years to decompose
- On average, 3,500+ butts are collected at our “C” street beach clean ups each month
- Littered cigarette butts pose a significant fire threat
- Change your buying habits
- Buy and eat local whenever possible
- Check out our Ocean Friendly Restaurants page to order from local restaurants that adhere to strict sustainable dining standards as a way to combat pollution and climate change
- Garden using sustainable landscaping practices to reduce stormwater runoff, recharge ground water, and create healthy soil that captures and stores carbon from the atmosphere.
- Check out our Ocean Friendly Gardens webpage for more info on how we are using native plants and sustainable landscaping to increase carbon sequestration in soil
- Demand Congress to take CLIMATE ACTION NOW by messaging your local representatives using this format
- Our chapter is working diligently with Ventura City Council members to pass single-use plastic bans. Check out our Plastic Free Ventura page for more info on how to get involved
More Surfrider Resources: