World Surfing Reserves

Jesus Salazar
Published: 27 April 2021
Last edited: 27 April 2021
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A surf ecosystem is more than a wave: it’s the geophysical components, the plants and animals, and the human interactions that make a place special. Protecting surf ecosystems in turn protects marine habitats, maintains the integrity of the wave, and safeguards local livelihoods.

World Surfing Reserves (WSR) act as a model for preserving wave breaks and their surrounding areas by recognizing and protecting key environmental, cultural and economic attributes in coastal communities.


WSRs represent a global network of designated surfing reserves that are managed, implemented, and protected by local communities.  Every year, one new World Surfing Reserve is selected from a competitive pool of applicants by an independent council.


The Bahía de Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve was designated in 2014 and have implemented multiple projects protecting the ecosystems and waves in the region and is an excellent example of how the World Surfing Reserve can protect the coastline.


North America
Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Connective infrastructure, networks and corridors
Coral reef
Freshwater ecosystems
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Salt marsh
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Urban wetlands
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Coastal and marine spatial management
Ecosystem services
Erosion prevention
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Indigenous people
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Marine litter
Outreach & communications
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Standards/ certification
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Waste management
Wastewater treatment
Watershed management
World Heritage
Loss of Biodiversity
Ocean warming and acidification
Sea level rise
Shift of seasons
Storm surges
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Infrastructure development
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Sustainable development goals
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with associations


El Sauzal De Rodríguez, Baja California, Mexico | USA, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, Portugal, Australia


The challenges to implementing the World Surfing Reserve and the associated Local Stewardship Plan include long-term funding sources, local capacity, local politics, and the scale of the threats facing the ecosystem.


The beneficiaries include the community of Bahia de Todos Santos and Ensenada, businesses, tourists, surfers, the natural environment, endangered and threatened species, and the surf economy.

How do the building blocks interact?

Each building block is essential to the entire project.  It all starts with the Application and Selection Process which selects which region is best equipped to function and implement the tenets of the World Surfing Reserve program.  Throughout the application process, a strong relationship is built between Save The Waves and the local community stakeholders and together the Coalition Building takes shape as alliances are built within the community and with the staff of Save The Waves Coalition.  As the coalition is built, the necessary relationships and identified goals are in place to develop the Stewardship Planning Process as well as to pursue other projects which enhance the character of the World Surfing Reserve such as Surfonomics.  The Surfonomics project and Stewardship Plan form a solid foundation of evidence and management scheme so the World Surfing Reserve can pursue their conservation projects and initiatives.


The impacts the World Surfing Reserves program are numerous including the protection of world class waves, the revitilization of the local economy from surf tourism, improvements in water quality and the impacts of plastic pollution, and the protection of the flora and fauna that exist in the reserve.


Bahia de Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve has protected the last intact watershed in the region, helped reduce single-use plastics on the coast, protected surf spots from industrial development and pollution, and ensured beach access for local surfers and visitors among many other accomplishments.


On June 5th, World Environment Day 2018, Jorge Emilio Martinez, a member of the Ensenada City Council, presented a proposal to eliminate the use of plastic bags and disposable utensils in commercial establishments in every town of the municipality of Ensenada. In addition to the Bahia de Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve’s support, this project gathered 100,000 signatures and had the backing of the UN Environment Mexico and several civil society organizations such as Pronatura Noroeste, Terra Peninsular, Pro Esteros,  and Manos al Mar.


On June 17th, the Ensenada City Council approved this historic measure which was implemented January 1st, 2019. With the tireless efforts of members of the Bahia de Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve, the coastline and ocean are looking towards a future free from plastic pollution.

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Trent Hodges Save The Waves Coalition

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