Starboard sustainability team member Céline attended the Global Waves Conference 2018 in Santa Cruz, CA amongst 300 other attendees. Here’s the sum up: 6 Take-Home Messages.

This conference gathered leading organizations focused on ocean conservation such as Save the Waves, Surfrider International, Surfers Against Sewage, Sustainable Surf & Parley for the Oceans (two of Starboard’s Eco-Partners) and many more. Attendees also included scientists such as Marcus Eriksen from 5 Gyres; Dr. J Wallace Nicholas, author of Blue Mind; Kyle Van Houtan, Director of Science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Dr. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International. Fellow industry leaders in sustainable development such as Clif Bar, Reef, Bureo skateboards, Firewire and Finisterre were also present— discussing ways to make our water-sports industry less wasteful and more in tune with a circular economy.

Without a doubt, the conference focused on addressing plastic pollution, one of our oceans’ main threats.

Here are six key take-home messages from the conference that shed light on some of the ‘greenwashing’ our polluted economy is plagued by, as well as some promising solutions.

Photo Credit: Dylan Hansen

‘Not quite good enough’ Solutions

1. ‘BioPlastics’ are not the solution

So called ‘bioplastics’ or ‘compostable plastics’ that look and feel just like plastic indeed act like plastic and do not fully decompose. Marcus Eriksen from 5Gyres studied various forms of these bioplastics and submerged them in the ocean for two years, as well as in his back yard in soil. They did not disappear! The only ‘bioplastic’ that fully decomposes in these two environments is the very thin alternative to plastic bags that is ASTM D6400 or D6868 certified. Bioplasitcs made of PLA do not decompose fully.

Read 5Gyres’ B.A.N list 2.0 to learn more about top polluting products, brands and learn about solutions and policy changes available.

Reference: 5Gyres Institute, the B.A.N List


  1. Large constructions/nets in the ocean will not help us get rid of plastic

According to deep sea research expeditions, it appears that most plastics are now below the surface. Therefore, spending energy attempting to collect plastic in the ocean with large infrastructure is not the most efficient use of resources. In order to remove existing macro plastics from the ocean, our efforts should focus on beach clean-ups and associated education.

Kyle Van Houtan from Monetery Bay Aquarium gave us a good example: if there’s a leak in the house we don’t start by paling it out with buckets: we go straight to the source of the leak or shut down the water. The same should hold true for plastic pollution— let’s start by investing in real alternatives and putting in place incentives for re-suable items and bans on items like plastic bags.

  1. Recycling is not the key to our problems

‘Recycling something’ would entail that something is transformed into a material that is just as good in quality as its original material. This is not the case. Currently we are ‘downcycling’. Of the plastics ever produced worldwide, only 9% have been ‘recycled’ (aka ‘downcycled’). The rest goes to landfill, is burnt or ends up in our environment. We need to promote Refuse and Reuse before Recycling.

Promising solutions:
  1. ‘Snot Houses’ are eating microplasics

It appears as though jelly-fish like creatures known as ‘snot houses’ (larvaceans) seem to be ingesting plastic and sending it down to the sea floor with their ‘poop’. Much research is still needed to understand what happens next.


  1. Styrofoam eating worms exist

Céline met Eddie Garcia from Living Earth Systems, a surfer & SUP’r that has worked with various forms of beetle larvae eating Styrofoam.

Little by little, with the help of fungi and microbes, Styrofoam’s long chain polymers turn into organic material. The end result is soil that is then fed to plants.

This seems to be a promising solution for the surf/SUP industries.


  1. Let’s fight to create more protected blue areas, like we have on land

Protected lands, like the great National Parks in the USA and the Alberto de Agostini Park in Chile, are abundant. However, there are very few protected areas in the ocean, which has led to overfishing. We need to fight to create more protected areas in the ocean.


Bonus take-home message that Starboard already knows! Planting mangroves is the best thing we can do to offset our carbon footprint— these were the last words of Dr. Sanjayan’s presentation.


This conference reinforced that in order to address climate change, we need both top-bottom and bottom-up approaches. We need scientists informing policy, corporate entities like B Corporations leading the way, as well as NGOs and communities speaking up and educating the public. The surf & SUP community is a great place to start.

Photo Credit: Dyan Davis

6 Take-Home Messages Global Waves Conference 2018

Photo Credit: Nikki Brooks/Save The Waves


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