Hawaii’s surf might disappear completely if climate change worsens, experts say

Hawaii’s surf might disappear completely if climate change worsens, experts say
A graphic showing how the United States is affecting and responding to climate change. (Image: Kalon Surf) (Source: Kalon Surf)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For most people, beautiful beaches are the first thing to come to mind when thinking about Hawaii.

However, experts warn that a beach-less Hawaii might become a reality, if no action is taken to prevent further climate change damage to the surf.

Doorae Shin, the Oahu chapter coordinator of the Surfrider Foundation, said that “we need to act as urgently and boldly as possible to make up for decades of inaction.”

“In May 2019, carbon dioxide levels were detected at 415 ppm which is the highest in recorded history,” Shin said. “That’s far from the 350 ppm we need to have a stable planet to live on.”

“The increase of carbon dioxide means that the tides will be higher than ever, so surfing will get increasingly rare and challenging to find,” Shin said.

NASA defines climate change as “a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere.”

The U.S. has been identified as one of the premiere surf destination countries doing the least to protect its beaches from the changes.

And although some states have taken action, the nation as a whole has rolled back regulations decreasing carbon emissions and prompted to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

As a result, the sport and culture of surfing are increasingly at risk.

Here’s why this impacts surfers: Experts say that the way a wave builds and breaks is also determined by the shape of the ocean floor as it meets the shoreline. As sea temperature and levels rise, where and how the wave would break would change too.

So as the sea level rises, some of the world’s premier surf spots, like tourist capital Waikiki Beach, could potentially disappear completely.

Other notable surf spots that are susceptible include the North Shore on Oahu, Peahi and Hookipa on Maui and Hanalei Bay on Kauai.

The North Shore alone attracts thousands of people annually and is host to some of the world’s most famous surfing competitions.

The Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore is also equally famous, bringing in surfers from around the world to try and attempt the large barreling waves.

Surfing is also ultimately reliant on healthy oceans and coasts and as the ocean temperature rises, so does the acidity in the waters killing off coral reefs.

Without surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and other popular activities, Hawaii’s tourism industry would then also take a dramatic economic impact.

Chip Fletcher, a professor at University of Hawaii Manoa, said that in order to protect these idyllic and postcard-worthy beaches, the coastal community needs to change their priorities.

“We tend to protect the houses and roads in preference to the beaches and call it shoreline protection, but its actually shoreline destruction," Fletcher said.

“As the sea level rises, the beach only has one option- to move in the landward direction."

Fletcher added that people living in beachfront homes or within a couple block radius of the beach are in “hazardous locations.”

“There is a 10% probability of sea level rising two meters or roughly 6.5 feet at the end of the century,” Fletcher said.

“A 10% probability may not strike someone as being of great urgency, but it is a significant one that will wipe the beaches we know. We have to start preparing for this problem immediately."

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