Surfers Against Sewage Reveals £20bn Health Benefits of Watersports

Nationally, the physical health benefits of people undertaking water sports could amount to £20.2bn per year
The number of people taking part in water sports has doubled since the start of the pandemic
There has been a 31% increase in people visiting the beach to relax and unwind since the start of the pandemic
People living close to the sea have better overall mental health and reduced risk of depression
People feel more restored and happier when there is a more natural and protected marine environment
80% of people want to see more action to restore the ocean

A new report released by the national ocean conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage, highlights the clear link between the health of the ocean and people’s mental health and wellbeing. Through a representative survey of 10,000 people across the UK, the report finds that people taking part in ocean-based water sports has doubled since the start of the pandemic. Extrapolated to the UK population and using methods widely used by health professionals to quantity health outcomes, the report estimates physical health benefit of water sports of up to £20.2bn per year.
The report shows that, despite COVID-19 restrictions, the level of engagement with the marine environment remains strong. More people have reported visiting the coast to relax and unwind through the pandemic than previous years with 85% of people reporting that spending time by the sea makes them feel refreshed and revitalised; and 86% saying it makes them feel calm and relaxed. With specialist mental health care costs reaching up to £1,125 per case and evidence of the link between being in close proximity to the sea and mental health, the report highlights the potential for ‘blue prescribing’ as an alternative mental health treatment.
Amy Slack, Head of Campaigns & Policy at Surfers Against Sewage says:

“The ocean is our life support machine. It covers 70% of the earths surface, provides 80% of the oxygen we breath, and absorbs 93% the excess heat from CO2, protecting us from climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how important the ocean is to our mental and physical health. During lockdown, many of us have missed the peace and calm being near the ocean can bring us, the joy we experience chasing waves on the beach, and the exhilaration we get from riding surf. We depend on a wilder ocean for a nourished mind, we depend on a cleaner ocean for a healthy body. At the start of the UN Decade for the Ocean, our report highlights the clear public demand for increased ocean protection that allows marine ecosystems to rebound and thrive and, in turn, allows us to thrive with it.”

The report also points to evidence that suggests people feel more restored and happier when there is more natural and protected marine environments, highlighting the risk that continued degradation of the marine environment could have on public health and wellbeing. However, whist almost a third of UK seas are designated as ‘Marine Protected Areas’ (MPA), many are described as ‘paper parks’ that exists without sufficient monitoring and enforcement with many destructive practices still permitted. Just over 60% of people who knew what an MPA was thought they were ineffective at protecting the ocean. Surfers Against Sewage have found that over half to respondents to their survey thought that UK seas were threatened and in poor health with 80% wanting to see action to restore the ocean, 60% wanting more effective government action.
In June, the government announced that Highly Protected Marine Areas would be piloted in inshore and offshore waters in England. The call for evidence to inform pilot sites has been undertaken with public consultations expected in 2022. Surfers Against Sewage are calling for 30% of all marine protected areas to be highly protected marine areas by 2030.