A UWA researcher is calling on economists and coastal planners to determine the real economic value of surfing in Western Australia to make more informed decisions around the benefits that surfing brings to users and local communities.
It is estimated that 2.5 million Australians participate in the sport which generates up to $65 billion globally through direct expenditure and tourism.
However, economists and coastal planners rarely consider the economic and personal benefits of surfing.
Research fellow Dr Ana Manero from UWA's School of Agriculture and Environment, and the Australian National University's Crawford School of Public Policy, is an environmental economist who believes surfing waves should be understood and protected as a valuable natural resource.
"Economists do this type of work for lots of recreational activities, such as fishing, a lot of research has been carried out in this area," she said.
"The same sort of studies have been done to protect forests and hiking.
"This has not yet been applied to understanding waves, there is little understanding and policy around why surfing is important."
Dr Manero said surf economics measured the multiple benefits that surfing brought to users and local communities.
"Events like World Surf League championships attract thousands of viewers, in-person and via broadcast, which can generate millions in direct expenditure and tourism publicity," she said.
"People pay millions to live close to good quality surf breaks.
"However, the real value of surfing is captured in people's wellbeing: their physical health, their mental health, their sense of community. We need to find out how much this is worth.
"I am more interested in the intangible values, the benefits surfers derive from surfing.
"For me the intangible value that surfing as a sport brings to users has a direct economic output value that it brings to local communities."
Dr Manero said economists and coastal planners could look at how often surfers went to a particular site, how many people went there and how far they had travelled.
"That is a measure of how much people are willing to sacrifice in terms of time and money to access that site, how much time they spent there and what were the things they did," she said.
"That gives you a measure of the particular value of a particular surf break to users. Margaret River is a typical example."
Dr Manero said a proposed expansion of the Ocean Reef Marina has raised public outrage about the potential destruction of surf breaks.
She said understanding the importance of surf breaks could lead to improvement of surf quality, through the protection of existing assets and establishment of artificial reefs and wave pools.
"Most people don't understand how waves break," she said.
"It's not only about the swell - the ocean bottom is crucial."
Dr Manero said the expansion was likely to impact how the sand moved and a breakwater could possibly affect a sandbank at Mullaloo Beach.
"That would erode the value for the local community. I am not saying the development should not go ahead, what I am saying is that with better data we could make better decisions," she said.
"We need careful management of coastal landscapes to help sand sediments build banks that maintain natural breaks.
"This type of information could be used in a cost benefit analysis by local governments.
"For example, they could see that by spending X amount of dollars to make a road accessible and how much that would benefit a local community."