Citizens of Surf

Photo credit: Julia Neeson / Soneva


Citizens of Surf is a long term strategy for surfers to engage in Ocean science and conservation. Formerly a Decade of Ocean Science Activity, in March 2023, the project was endorsed as an official Ocean Decade Action, and is now aligned with the ECOP Programme.

Citizens of Surf aims to equip surfers with the knowledge, understanding, support and tools to become active and engaged citizen scientists by 2030, and therefore contribute to the UN Decade of Ocean Science.  Its main objective is Challenge 10: Change humanity’s relationship with the Ocean.

Join the first Citizens of Surf workshop!

Are you interested to learn more about the biodiversity in the North Devon World Surf Reserve?

Join “Citizens of Surf” to participate in co-designed citizen science and collect eDNA samples whilst surfing:

  • Co-design community led science that sparks local stewardship and increases Ocean Literacy

  • Generate results to better understand the marine environment and help protect local habitats and species that could be under threat

  • Be part of a wider project developing the methodology for monitoring surf ecosystems around the World

15 September, 9-12pm, Croyde Beach, Devon, UK


With 35+ million people known to immerse themselves in breaking waves on a global scale, Citizens of Surf will connect recreational Ocean users to Ocean science, so they can contribute toward the Ocean Decade and help achieve “The Science We Need, for the Ocean We Want”.  Citizens of Surf’s longterm vision of transforming 35 million surfers into citizen scientists by 2030, will play a significant part in creating a step change in humanity’s relationship with the ocean.  It will do this through 4 main objectives:


We are highlighting synergies and pinpointing opportunities where recreational ocean users and surf ecosystems meet Ocean science – bridging the gap between surfers and scientists. We will focus on three key areas to research within surf ecosystems: biodiversity, climate change and contaminants, and use ocean literacy as a common language.


Once we have established networks between potential partners, we aim to design collaborative, participatory (short and long term) research projects.  This will directly involve and engage surf communities across the world, within the scope of the three research areas.  We are forming alliances to co-design and co-deliver “the science we need”.

See PHASE 3: Partnerships for more information.


The Ocean Literacy framework helps us understand the knowledge accumulated whilst surfing regarding ocean, coastal, weather and wave processes, whilst the social-ecological systems framework breaks down how that knowledge is accumulated.  Models help us make sense of human-Ocean connections and interactions, specifically in surfing, so we are using them to develop more understanding of how Ocean literacy, citizens science and surfing all fit together.

We are using surf specific tools that can collect, conduct and drive research in our three key areas (Biodiversity, Climate Change and Pollutants) and we’ll be piloting methodology such as: eOceans app, Smartfin, surf manta trawl, green gravel and more. We’re planning to develop baseline studies, starting in Portugal, so we can start monitoring surf ecosystems, and continue those studies over longer timelines. We can then work out if these studies are easily replicated and transferable, which we can then scale up and adapt to other places.  We’ll also be studying the participants who take part, as this is transdisciplinary research – featuring both social and environmental data (human AND Ocean).


Citizens of Surf started out as a Masters research project, just as the Ocean Decade was starting in 2021.  Phase 1 and 2 were completed when it was just an activity, now as an endorsed project, affiliated with the ECOP Programme in 2023, Phases 3 and 4 will run until 2026.  These key stages will develop the necessary partnerships, resources and methods, in order to scale up operations and reach the goal of transforming the global population of surfers into marine citizen scientists by 2030.


Provide scientific evidence of how surfing is a complex and dynamic social-ecological system and mechanism for ocean literacy.


Create a short film with surfers as the target audience, to inspire them to think about their own ocean awareness, and community engagement opportunities.


Building partnerships is key to designing participatory and multidisciplinary projects, with scope to scale up smaller pilots to reach the global surf community.  

in process

Citizens of Surf is currently seeking opportunities to develop a specialised and longer term phd research project testing the feasibility of citizen science data, collected by surfers within surf ecosystems. 

in process

The final stage will include integration and implementation of further research studies, an educational /awareness media campaign and a global surfing citizen science programme that monitors environmental indicators within surf ecosystems across International locations.

to be designed
PHASE 1 and 2 Outputs

Ocean Literacy and Surfing: Understanding How Interactions in Coastal Ecosystems Inform Blue Space User’s Awareness of the Ocean (Fox et al., 2021)

Supporting Sustainable Development Goal 14 “Life Below Water” through understanding surfing communities with a Social-Ecological Systems lens: How do Ocean Users fit into SDG14 and the Ocean Decade? (Fox and Dankel, 2021)

The Convergence Zone is a short film made with partners Soul & Surf surf retreat, which introduces the #7 Ocean Literacy Principles, along with the connection between surfing and ocean literacy.  It was screened as part of Finisterre’s Sea7 event.

Research areas

The results of the PHASE 1 research paper showed that: 91.2% of participants surf to feel connected to the Ocean and 77.4 % of participants attribute surfing to their understanding of the Ocean.

The study indicated that surfers have potential to become engaged in marine citizen science, with 55.8% of participants highly valuing ecosystems due to surfing, and 59.2% of participants saying they would sign up to a citizen science programme.  The qualitative data helped show that their relationship to the Ocean is an integral part of surfing, and therefore Ocean health becomes intrinsically linked to surfer wellbeing through their aquatic interactions.

“When you’re surfing, you’re part of the ocean, Surfing and its effects are less…static. It not a gentle soak, its participation in the ocean. Participation in its energy and alive-ness.” (Research participant)

In terms of the Ocean Literacy, the three Principles, that surfers (in the study) most identify with are: 

OLP 3. The Ocean is a major influence on the weather and climate

OLP 5. The Ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems

OLP 6. The Ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected 

Therefore, in order to build on the existing knowledge and understanding surfers have about the Ocean, our three main areas of research are:

Climate Change indicators

Next steps: PHASE 3 and 4

During this time, Citizens of Surf will focus on connecting the UN’s Decade of Ocean Science to surf ecosystem research, surfing NGO’s and coastal communities with shared visions.  A “Citizens of Surf” cohort, made up of interdisciplinary surfing scientific experts, will help guide the project from the field of ocean literacy towards marine citizen engagement.  Webinars and workshops will discuss and co-design a preliminary research project that is part of a postgraduate degree at NOVA School of Science and Technology, Lisbon, Portugal.  ReGeneration Surf is the outreach project, that aims to communicate this work to the wider public. Stay tuned for more information on these outputs.

Get involved!

Are you a surfing ECOP that would like to get involved with Citizens of Surf? Perhaps you have ideas on how surfers can contribute to existing projects, or you know of brand new methodology that would work really well in places with lots of waves?  We would love to hear from you if so!

Watch and share the ReGeneration Surf trailer

Made by Sunny Breger to showcase the work carried out by the ReGeneration Surf coalition – partners Mossy Earth, Oceans and Flow, Seaforester and Zero Waster Lab – during 2022.  The project was funded by World Surf League, and featured local organizations, WSL Commentators. Special thanks go to Joao Franco and the team at IPLeiria (MARE), Peniche.

Take the ReGen Surf survey

Want to contribute to ReGeneration Surf through our social data collection?  Click the link to answer the questionnaire and help us understand surfers better.

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Meet the project coordinator:

Natalie Fox is a surfer of twenty years, hailing from a landlocked part of the UK (Stratford upon Avon).  She began her surfing journey in Cornwall, before surf coaching in Morocco, and consequently surfing and traveling all over the World to find long, point break waves.  Whilst on her travels, she began noticing the impacts of human society on the surf breaks she was so fond of, and became determined to learn more and take action.  In 2019, she sailed with the crew of eXXpedition from Plymouth to Azores to contribute to micro-plastic research in the North Atlantic, which was her first encounter with citizen science. This called her to embark on an MSc in Sustainability with Anglia Ruskin University and The Eden Project and tailor her project work towards surfers and their Ocean connection.  This is how Citizens of Surf was born.  She now studies, works (as ECOP Programme communications manager) and lives in SW Portugal, and is still practicing her pop up.

For any questions or enquiries, feel free to contact Natalie:

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