Usually when we think of Teahupo’o, Tahiti’s most famous wave (as well as the world’s heaviest), we think of dangers to those brave enough to surf it. But this shallow water coral reef pass, and surf breaks like it around the world, are themselves in great danger. These will be the places first affected by the triple threats of ocean acidification, ocean thermal loading, and rising sea level from climate change.
Surf breaks on coral reef passes like Teahupo’o are the canaries in the coal mine signifying the disastrous effects of these three global dangers. Surfers will be the first to see it, as the quality of these breaks may degrade drastically, to the point of being unrideable, in as little as 20-40 years.
What will generations to come be missing if the worst predictions come true? I can’t resist put post the video below– highlights from the 2011 WCT contest– to show just the quality (and intensity) of this endangered wave.
The reef at Teahupo’o has been built up by reef-building corals, which over the past 10,000 years have built up the reef to make it the perfect wave it is today. Even now, these reef-building corals continue to work to keep building up the reef, slowly filling back in any breaks which may form from the relentless South Pacific swells which land on them every winter.
Today a third of the world’s coral reefs may face extinction, making them the second-most threatened group of organisms on the planet (after amphibians, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature…though it’s not exactly a contest corals would want to win). Today, global coral reef cover is 30% lower than it was in 1980– a staggering reduction in the total amount of coral reefs worldwide.
There are twofold risks to coral reefs which make surf breaks like Teahupo’o: dangers to reef-building corals which have made (and continue to maintain) the reef; and dangers to the reef itself. Risks come not just from pollution, over-fishing, and other direct threats, but from global risks associated with the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).
Below you can read about some of these global risks– very important because it’s not just Teahupo’o that will be threatened, but coral reef passes around the world.