What is the World Wave Project?

World Wave Project is designing new seabed profiles to create new surf breaks while improving the marine environment and coastal resilience. Our approach sculpts inert areas of seabed to increase viable habitat and produce surfable waves, ranging from beginner breaks through world-class barrels. Over time, we monitor the project region to track improvements in ecosystem health resulting from these optimized profiles.

What does sculpting mean?

Seabed sculpting means minor relocation, removal and/or addition of material to the seafloor.  Sculpting less than 1% of a project area’s seabed profile can dramatically improve wave quality and increase viable habitat over the long term, with minimal environmental impact.  

Is it possible to create new surf breaks?

The planet has hundreds of thousands of kilometres of coasts. However, only a small fraction of the coast has surfable waves where Mother Nature brings favourable winds, swell, and seabed conditions all together, more sites than this where it’s almost all together.

Wind and swell conditions cannot be changed but the seabed can be modified to improve wave conditions. The seabed has a major influence on the form of breaking waves. The seabed influences the speed at which a wave peels (the peel angle), and the shape , or intensity, of the breaking wave. These characteristics are most important to surfing – waves for surfing need to peel and have a steep face.

Have artificially made surf breaks worked in the past?

Over the past 25 years the concept of creating new surfing waves has been proven with the construction of artificial surfing reefs and wave pools. There are also numerous examples of popular surf breaks that are the byproduct of anthropogenic activities, such as the Super Bank starting at Snapper Rocks (Qld, Aus.), Sebastian Inlet (Fl, USA), the Wedge (Ca. USA)  and Ala Moana Bowls (Hi, USA), to name but a few. 

The majority of artificial surf reef projects have proven the concept with respect to creating new surf breaks, but their success has typically been short lived given the difficulty of building structures in the surf zone stable enough to maintain their design shape for extended periods. The majority of artificial surfing reefs were made of sand filled geotextile containers due to the perception that they are easily removed if the reef project fails, but that misconception has been disproven.

Recently, more traditional construction methods using large rock have been used and the structures and surf breaks are lasting better; e.g., the Palm Beach reef, Gold Coast, Australia.

We believe it is possible to utilise surf science, best practise environmental management, and marine engineering to make sustainable and environmentally positive changes to the seabed to create high quality waves for surfing, particularly where solid seabed substrate materials are being sculpted. 

The process requires thorough fieldwork, baseline characterization (physical and ecological) of a site and surrounds, an iterative numerical and physical modelling process, environmental impact assessment, permitting, underwater construction, construction environmental management planning (e.g., potential transfer of flora/fauna to identified sites), and hydrographic surveys compared to design to building.

Isn’t sculpting of the seabed to create a surf break experimental? 

The controlled removal of hard bottomed seabed is undertaken all around the world everyday.  Sculpting the seabed to change ‘almost’ breaks into surfable breaks is novel, although there are a number of successful surfing reefs that have been built on the seabed around the world and a similar number of successful inland surfing facilities (wave pools) that utilise the same surf science approach. The foundation of our approach is firmly grounded in state-of-the-art science which informs both the detailed design and independent Environmental Impact Assessment (or Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE)).  

Why create new surf breaks?

The surfing population has exploded in the last few decades. As a result, the number of quality surfing locations around the world have become more crowded; the demand for surf breaks is massive and continually increasing, forcing surfers to travel further and consume more resources for the same surfing experience. We believe that creating more waves will lead to more surfers and more stewards of our oceans.  

There is a lot of time, energy, and money being invested into wave pools. While they have a significant role in the future of surfing, wave pools require massive up-front costs, significant water resources, and large energy overhead to operate. 

Once sculpted, our new surf breaks will be powered by nature, with relatively minimal upfront capital cost, no running costs and no direct carbon footprint. 

Will the environment be damaged? 

While the relocation of material requires physical work within the ecosystem, it is very short lived. We are committed to creating new surf breaks that will have a net gain for the marine environment. 

This is achieved through:

  • Identify environmentally suitable locations where:
    • there is largely inert reef, low biodiversity/sensitivity and/or wave action results in limited marina flora and fauna; this is often the case at surf breaks and ‘almost’ surf breaks which are consistently exposed to large, high energy swells
    • there exists an almost surf able wave that requires only minimal sculpting to make it a world class wave; this limits the volume of material requiring relocation, and reducing costs and any required changes to the seabed
  • Undertaking detailed marine data collection, modelling and environmental baseline studies
  • Public consultation to inform stakeholders about potential projects and gather information about the potential sites (including Government, NGO, State and public consultation)
  • Undertaking detailed design and low impact strategy development (safeguard valuable flora and fauna)
  • Seabed improvement plans (on and offsite e.g., new colonisation of corals, coral gardens, artificial reefs made of removed material to create new habitat and locally increase biodiversity, gazetting as marine protected areas)
  • Ongoing monitoring and handover to local guardians

How can new surf breaks protect the coastline from rising sea levels and coastal erosion?

Breaking waves further from the shoreline and dissipating wave energy further from the coast helps prevent unstable coastlines from being eroded. This can be achieved by constructing offshore reefs, a practice that has been undertaken, in the form of detached breakwaters, for many years. Only in the last 20 years have we witnessed the deliberate incorporation of design features that promote surfing. 

Coastal erosion can also be mitigated by the redirection of wave-energy, or wave-rotation. This can be achieved through sculpting of the seabed and encouraging waves to refract, or bend, on to a course that takes them directly away from a susceptible shore. 

Will the process of sculpting waves have a long term environmental impact?

Yes. The first step is to identify sites with no life or minimal life and low biodiversity, as well as the capacity to be naturally regenerated/recolonised. Any risks to the environment will be avoided and mitigated by a construction environmental management plan (CEMP).  Regeneration is a natural process that is well documented in reef areas following temporary disturbances.  

An important point to understand is the type of impact. Seabed shaping creates a small ‘pulse’ impact, which is an acute one-off event of short duration. This is very different to a ‘press’ impact that is a long-term chronic change to the marine environment. Examples of press impacts include reclaiming a large area of intertidal and shallow subtidal habitat, an outfall permanently changing water quality, a marine farm permanently changing waves, currents, and the benthos (the community of organisms that live on, in, or near the bottom of a sea), etc.  

The marine environment recovers from pulse impacts such as modification to a reef, while a press impact changes the area permanently (or at least while it is operating).

How can the new reef improve the marine environment?

Ecological enhancement is a well documented effect of consolidated material being introduced to the marine environment in a way that increases viable habitat.

This has been observed at the artificial surf breaks built to date, and the construction of artificial structures in the marine environment for ecological enhancement has been occurring around the world for at least 5,000 years.  In simple terms, stable and complex substrate provide more surface area and more ecological niches, and consequently have higher biodiversity than mobile and/or featureless substrates. Other factors such as flushing of lagoon areas and increasing local currents can also improve the environmental conditions.  

When sculpting is considered there are aspects such as using the removed materials to create new hard substrate in the area, local deepening resulting in increased biodiversity, gazetting as a local no-take zone/marine protected area. In places like Fiji, this last piece will occur automatically as a new surf break would fall under the Surf Decree and become protected. 

What happens to the material removed?

The material removed can be relocated to form a more stable and complex substrate in more benign areas (e.g., deeper water on silty seabed where the material will remain stable).  In other cases the material can be used to increase resilience by taking to land and increasing ground heights.  In tropical locations, to protect reefs from continued increases in sea temperatures the old reef material can also be upcycled into new reef blocks and populated with corals that withstand increases in temperatures and are less susceptible to coral bleaching.  

Any sessile live species identified in baseline marine studies and pre-construction surveys will be transplanted to other areas suitable for relocation and not impacted by sculpting.  

How long does it take for a sculpted seabed to be recolonized?

Recolonisation of virgin substrate will begin to occur almost immediately (the sea is full of larvae looking for somewhere to settle) and continue until it reaches a dynamic equilibrium conducive to the local environment. With respect to transplantation, replanted live corals take 6 – 12 months to adapt to new reef surrounds.

Do you create bigger waves that could potentially damage local property and housing?

Bigger waves cannot be created by making slight changes to the shape of a seabed.  The waves are generated by winds, often thousands of kilometres away.  Similarly, the shape of the seabed has no impact/effect on storm surge.  

The wave breaking patterns will change slightly, although these changes are offshore and do not change the amount of wave energy, while processes such as refraction/wave-rotation can help to lessen wave energy reaching the shore by redirecting it more onto the reef (i.e., reduce erosion).

Does changing the way waves break disrupt flora and fauna?

There is no permanent impact on fish species as there is only a small modification to very large reef structures, while mobile species will simply avoid the area during the short construction period.  Avoiding times of year that species are migrating (e.g., cetaceans), breeding or spawning, are also proven methods for reducing or eliminating disruption.

What volume of material will be added/removed?

Specific sites have different requirements. We know that, at a minimum, natural surf breaks  generally comprise hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of material.  This makes it difficult, and in most cases impossible to build an artificial reef with the size and quality of a natural surf break, and why we focus on ‘almost’ surf breaks where the required modification is a small fraction of the seabed profile.  The volume to be relocated needs to be minimal, but also produce surfable waves. Low volume projects can include filling in gaps or removing small sections that disrupt wave breaking.  With this approach less than 1% of a reef structure is typically altered.

Where will the material be removed from?

Removal of seabed material is limited to hard substrates such as rock or limestone reef. While this material is removed to create a surfable wave, it will remain in the local area and be put to use in a way that benefits local ecology and/or coastal processes, and could be used to improve or create another “almost surf break” nearby, and/or increase resilience to the land (e.g., increase land height, be a component of coastal protection structures, etc.).