Written by: Shannon Marie
Help save the rainforest while surfing perfect waves in a tropical paradise. Sounds epic, right? Surfers are known for their deep connection with the ocean and appreciation for its preservation, but what happens when a small, rural town is suddenly bombarded with surf tourism? Prepare for a new landscape and new problems, because while tourism can provide some financial resources to a village in third-world countries, it can also alter the landscape as trees are knocked down for hotel development projects, landfills overflow with waste, and safety of the locals is sacrificed by water pollution and exploitation.
Every case is different, but patterns show that education on sustainable practices can increase the chances of any region’s survival. It’s time to take an eco-surf trip, to leave every beach cleaner than when we got there, and spread the word on sustainable surfing.
Whether we like to admit it or not, our carbon footprint while taking the surf trip of a lifetime can add up quickly if we consider the gas used for plane flights, bus trips, the energy used to accommodate our laptops and other electronic baggage. The average international flight contributes around 5 tons CO²; an average American citizen produces 19.4 tons of CO² a year. As an environmental activist wanting to break free of the stereotype, and on a mission to live sustainably while scoring waves, I devoted my full attention to the most diverse and vital region for the health of our planet: the Atlantic Rainforest in Bahia, Brazil. Its consistent swell, warm water and good vibes turned a three month adventure into a yearlong adventure deep in the jungle.
Not only do the innumerable tree species in the Atlantic Rainforest bring more oxygen to the world than any other source, the biodiversity of the region also contains some of the rarest and most beautiful species of plants and animals on the planet. Unfortunately, when you hear the word, “paradise,” it often comes with a risk of being endangered. Only 5% of the coastline’s original forests remain today due to deforestation, as land owners continue to monocrop (an agricultural practice of planting one single crop, thus reducing biodiversity). Bahia’s agricultural history dates back for centuries when the Portuguese exploited Brazilian soils, capitalizing off of coffee plantations and causing the deforestation of large acres of land to make room for them, threatening the soil with irreversible consequences. Environmental activists hope to mobilize people on the fact that there is only a small percentage left, and the dangers of global warming as these trees continue to fall.
Thankfully, surfers are uniting to do something about it. The Atlantic Rainforest Institution (ARFI) is a non-governmental organization active and committed to preserving the Atlantic Rainforest in Southern Bahia, Brazil. The most striking example of a conservation hotspot – with 95% of it’s original size destroyed during the last 500 years — Bahia remains very rich in biodiversity and under continued threat. ARFI is focused on the fact that rainforests help regulate the earth’s climate by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) – the main greenhouse gas. Saving forests is one of the fastest and most effective ways to stabilize global climate change and the local truly rich biodiversity.
“It is a critical part of the larger solution, and action is required now,” ARFI insists, a Swiss organization co-founded by surfer and environmental activist, Chris Bachmann. He has channeled his passion for surfing into something much larger, now in talks with the United Nations on an effort to protect more land and conserve the little rainforest left standing. ARFI’s educational efforts and social projects look to improve the lives of local people, while simultaneously educating foreigners traveling to the region – sometimes in the form of surfing, skateboarding, music and other community events.
When I first met Chris at Arte na Mata (“Art Jungle”), a breathtaking ecological resort that helps support the Atlantic Rainforest Institution‘s efforts, he warned me about the large snakes in the jungle and to be prepared to see the largest tropical creatures imaginable. Let’s just say I could be found with a machete in hand at all times. Anacondas were the least of my worries, as I came across traces of human trash and destruction in the most remote of areas.
The almost-pristine beaches were becoming littered by the trash washing ashore. Was every beach on the globe destroyed by our plastic dependency? If the cosmetic unease wasn’t enough, how about the sanitary concerns of surfing breaks near the river mouth? Naturally, the best waves break near a shark-infested port area of the small fishing village. With the town’s landfill piled near a river flowing into the sea, poisonous chemicals are seeping into the earth and down stream to the marine life. And the latter concern of surfing in polluted water cannot be ignored.
Watch the video below as the Atlantic Rainforest Institution (AFRI) takes pro surfers and snowboarders to the most diverse rainforest in Bahia, Brazil. After surfing perfect waves, these travelers get dirty planting trees and make a creative effort to promote sustainable practices. The non-profit organization has already protected over 330 acres of land. In this clip, they make an impact by using recycled glass bottles for the walls of their new facilities, all while constructing a school for the local children alongside.
The Escola Bosque da Pasagem (“The Rainforest School”) is a new educational program that teaches kids about their environment, using science as a powerful tool for survival in hopes of developing an appreciation to live sustainably and care for the place they call home.
What could be better than music, surfing, and good friends all in paradise? How about a dope, deep skate bowl right by the sand to boost out of the lip between sets. Ohhhh, ain’t life grand? Officially one of the most beautiful social projects ever completed, the Atlantic Rainforest Institution partnered up with Barcelona’s Creme Skateboards to donate enough resources, material and new skate decks for the inaugural skate sesh at Tiririca Beach.
Good vibrations and great waves make this the coolest town on the Atlantic, but the recent explosion of tourism could help, or seriously hurt the area depending on the responsibility of its visitors. Itacaré, bombarded by tourists during the summer season due to a new road into the tropical rainforest preservation, has altered the 6,000 acres of previously protected areas for conservation of flora and fauna.
Truly inspiring jungle vibes by Jamaram’s live performance sets the tone for the arrival of the Creme skate team to the new bowl, combining almost all of the aspects of Breathe/Respira Brazil in one clip.
“Palm trees, perfect waves and a perfectly shaped bowl… what more could you ask for?”
Surfers can do their part, trip by trip, to leave each beach cleaner and more amazing than when we arrived. As a surfer, we have a responsibility to take care of our playgrounds and mobilize others surfers to do the same. By being a leader, you can help teach others sustainable practices just by setting a good example. Pick up trash even if it means carrying it with you down the beach. Make sure you know what is happening to your trash and do something to reduce it. You may even need to contact your local government to encourage them to pass stricter laws on environmental issues, like plastic bag bans or recycling facilities. In the end, it will all come back to you in the form of a healthier ocean for your kids to enjoy.
Sustainability requires a delicate balance between our resources and human needs, but the easiest way to reduce your carbon imprint can be remembered by the three “R’s”: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. If you live by this motto, you are guaranteed to consume less and be more aware of the trash you produce, leading to organic forms of living that will pay off in the long run for your physical health and the wellbeing of our environment.
Educating yourself is the first step.
Thank you to all the event sponsors, the active community, and the enthusiastic volunteers in support of these efforts. MUITA OBRIGADA! MAHALO!
The Atlantic Rainforest Institution, Green House Casa Verde, Associação de Surf de Itacaré, Instituto de Turismo de Itacaré, Libélula Ponto de Cultura, Punho Forte, Pousada Colalá Surf House & Bar, Pousada Tãnara, Pousada Terral, Pousada Hanalei, Protect Our Winters, VoceSurf.com, Itacare24HS, Original Surf School, Center Supermercado, Smart Supermercados, Padaría Itacaré, Panificadora & Lanchonete Itacaré