As the world’s environmental problems expand the challenge is to keep up with the increasingly larger scale of the issues. Decades ago we worried about individual beaches, now we are focused on whole coastlines, and indeed entire oceans are at risk. To keep pace marine biologists and oceanographers have deployed huge arrays of sensors across the globe to capture key environmental variables. These Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS) include Global, National (in the US) and Regional (in California PaCOOS and CeNCOOS) that measure all sorts of environmental parameters such as temperature, pH, oxygen concentration, turbidity, wave heights, plankton abundance, etc.
However, there are major gaps in our knowledge, particularly in nearshore systems, but that’s where surfers, and more specifically, Smartfin comes in. Smartfin is a surfboard fin with sensors that measures multiple ocean parameters including salinity, pH, temperature, location, and wave characteristics. The data surfers acquire while surfing become accessible in near real-time to researchers around the globe. Smartfin will not only serve the worldwide scientific community with valuable ocean data but will also raise environmental awareness about our oceans in general.
Smartfin has been working in collaboration with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography since 2015 to validate the scientific application of the fin in the surf zone. Recently, Smartfin partnered with Surfrider Foundation to provide logistical and outreach support for the distribution of fins to its network of surfers worldwide.
Imagine a portion of all surfers, those that surf almost every day at breaks up and down the coast every few miles, all around the world, deploying scientific instruments on their boards. And as they surf they record important ocean health data that is beamed up through cellular networks to phone apps and scientific databases. In essence, surfers fill in the nearshore gaps left from the integrated ocean observing systems — largely placed offshore — providing valuable data for exactly the places that surfers frequent. And with those data we can improve our management of the oceans, especially the vulnerable coastlines. That’s the concept of Smartfin, a brainchild of Lost Bird, a non-profit organization lead by Dr. Andrew Stern who worked with engineer Benjamin Thompson of BoardFormula to develop the fin.
Andy, is the founder of Smartfin, and a recently retired Neurologist, He now devotes himself fully to raising awareness about our environment. Having discovered the need for near-shore ocean data to better understand the effects of climate change on coastal systems, Andy began imagining a data-collecting device deployed on surfboards that would essentially turn surfers into citizen scientists.
I communicated with Andy about the concept of Surfing Ecology and he had this to say:
As well as generating useful data to further ocean research, we also hope to foster a deeper connection between the surfer and the ocean and so raise awareness about ocean health….that is, [there is] a well aligned mission between The Surfing Ecologist: A New Synergy for Surfers and Science, and Smartfin.
So here’s a video of the concept of the Smartfin; which I believe one of the most innovative and important developments between surfers in marine scientists in recent times. And we will soon see how well it works!