Knowledge into action: water quality risk, local ecological knowledge, and decision making in Maine and New Hampshire's surfing population

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Scott, Sophia Quilliam
Water quality impairments and the subsequent beach advisories are significant problems in the Gulf of Maine. These advisories arise when water quality is below the accepted threshold for human health and safety. Surfers represent a culturally and economically important subpopulation of beachgoers who are subject to higher risks associated impaired water quality. This increased risk is related to the amount of time surfers spend in the water, the higher incidence of water ingestion, and the propensity for surfers to surf around storm events when water quality is the lowest. In our research we surveyed 291 surfers and conducted 20 interviews with key informants in the surfing community. Though we approached our research from the angle of water quality risk and decision-making the major theme that emerged from our interviews through the process of latent content analysis is that surfers Maine and New Hampshire hold a wealth of local ecological knowledge (LEK) especially around issues of water quality. LEK has been heralded as an important knowledge source in the realm of sustainability science and has proven to be useful in coastal management. In addition to the finding that Maine and New Hampshire surfers provide valuable insight on issues of water quality. We find that surfers indicate that water quality and pollution can impact an individual's decision to surf. Given this, surfers should have equal access to water quality information at their local surf spots. With this research we hope to show that surfer's knowledge of their environment can prove useful to researchers and help drive policy changes related to water quality management.