10 June, 2015 10 June, 2015

Surfers Enlisted to Assist with Environmental Research

Via rectal swabs and a new set of fins; that’s how surfers can help further the research of scientists looking to collect data about ocean conditions and the bugs that live in it.


The Smartphin enables surfers to collect vital information about the changing condition of the oceans in the hostile near-shore zone. The ‘Beach Bums’ programme in the UK, meanwhile, has enlisted the help of the non-profit Surfers Against Sewage organisation, as they look to investigate the effects antibiotic-resistant bacteria (also known as ‘superbugs’) have on human health.

Since surfers swallow lots more seawater than other ocean users (around 170ml a session according to Surfers Against Sewage), the ‘Beach Bums’ programme is asking that surfers volunteer to provide rectal swabs for testing. From these swabs, scientists hope to determine the effects marine pollution have on our gut and health in general.


Scientists are also looking to monitor the effects of climate change on our oceans, but the near-shore zone (AKA a surfer’s playground) is one of the most difficult areas to collect data from, because equipment installed in this turbulent zone is often quickly destroyed or eroded by the salty sea. Which is where the Smartphin comes in. Designed by surfer and engineer, Benjamin Thompson, the Smartphin looks, weighs and surfs like a standard surfboard fin, but they have a small microchip installed which collects information on the pH, salinity, temperature, directional wave spectra and the surfer’s location in real time.

“The point is to change the surfing experience from self-enjoyment to surfer as citizen scientist, knowing that when they do what they love they will also be contributing data to the scientific community so that we can get a better understanding of the oceans,” says Smartphin project director, Dr Andrew Stern.

Smartphin plans to further test their device with 150 participants in San Diego, California this November, before it will be available for surfers to purchase and become citizen scientists.

Read more about Smartphin here.
Details about the ‘Beach Bums’ project can be found here.

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