The Creation Of Artificial Reefs For Surfing
The Importance Of Topography
Swells are generated by pressure systems and tropical storms thousands of miles from the coastlines. As the waves move toward land, they become mild. By the time they reach the shore, the intensity of the swell is dependent upon the topography of the ocean floor. If the seabed is completely flat, the swells are extremely mild. They don't provide sufficient surfing conditions. If there are inclines and declines along the ocean's floor, the swells become more intense and their behavior changes. When you see the top of a wave being thrust forward to cascade down into its mouth, that's due to an incline in the seabed. Beaches that enjoy a seabed with varying topography usually yield better surfing conditions.
Simulating Depth Changes
Artificial reefs are created (in part) to simulate changes in the topography of the ocean's floor. By placing large objects along the floor of the ocean, we can create changes in swell intensity. This can produce conditions that are more conducive to surfing. For example, an artificial reef was built in Australia in 2000. Hundreds of bags were filled with sand and laid on the ocean's floor near the coastline. Each bag was greater in size than a standard bus. One objective of the sandbags was to simulate a significant change in the ocean's depth, thereby producing more intense swells for surfing. Though it was successful in doing so for a little while after its creation, the settling of the sand within the bags eventually made the difference negligible.
Ancillary Benefits Of Artificial Surfing Reefs
Artificial reefs are also created with other objectives. First, with the proper placement of obstructions along the ocean floor, we can potentially discharge much of a wave's energy. Left unchecked, some waves can hit the shore, unleashing their power on unwary swimmers. By creating a reef, we can reduce this energy and make the waters safer.
Second, man-made reefs can slow down coastal erosion and create feeding grounds for some of the sealife. By forecasting ecological changes in the ocean, artificial reef planners can help prevent erosion that would otherwise happen throughout the coastline.
The Future Of Artificial Reef Creation
Man-made reefs have endured criticism. While many people extol the benefits of creating these reefs (both for surfing and ecological preservation), others claim that such reefs actually harm the environment. They argue that artificial reefs throw off the balance enjoyed in the ocean's ecology. Even surfers have cast a wary eye at man-made reefs. Many of them feel that building a reef will never yield a high-quality wave that can compete with those produced in popular surfing locations.
The future of artificial reefs is uncertain. Their long-term benefits are largely unproven and environmental advocates strongly oppose them (especially when the reefs are built primarily for surfing). In the end, surfers may be forced to enjoy the natural swells offered by their local beaches.