- WSL / Beatriz Ryder

The world's top surfers team up with youth in Western Australia's Margaret River region to care for the coast and protect the area's beautiful beaches.

Ahead of the 2024 Western Australia Margaret River Pro, a group of local coastal ambassadors aged 15-18 joined surfers from the men's and women's World Championship Tour to restore the coastal dunes as well as lay down branches and brush to close extra pathways through the vegetation - highlighting what it means to be an environmental steward.

In previous years, the World Surf League (WSL) has teamed up with not-for-profit Nature Conservation Margaret River Region and a swag of local conservation, volunteer and board riding clubs to run the planting and brushing busy bee.

WSLOO Margs 2024 For the Western Australia Margaret River Pro, World Surf League team up with WSL PURE grantee Nature Conservation Margaret River Region, community partners, and surfers on a coastal restoration project. - WSL / Beatriz Ryder

This year the partners embraced an exciting new format. That's because the WSL's PURE Grant Program has funded an innovative new initiative coordinated by Nature Conservation Margaret River Region, called the youth marine stewardship program aimed at building a culture of coastal stewardship. Sixteen young people who call the Margaret River region home and have a keen interest in the ocean were selected earlier this year to take part in the program. It included a series of workshops all linked to the marine world covering topics including leadership, mental health, indigenous culture, freediving, reading the coastline, and coastal conservation. Now, the participants are working in groups to clearly identify threats to the local marine ecosystem, devise innovative solutions, and bring them to reality, helped along the way by local experts. Delivering the brushing busy bee with the world's best surfers during the Margaret River Pro is part of their project.

Nature Conservation Margaret River Region general manager Drew McKenzie said the collaboration with the WSL was an incredible opportunity for the chosen candidates - while benefits from the program would flow on to the entire community. "The coast is a great source of fun and recreation for many of us, but our goal is to inspire locals to be custodians and stewards for the coast too," he said.

WSLOO Margs 2024 Volunteers and community partners help restore the coastal dunes by laying down branches and brush to close pathways through the vegetation. - WSL / Beatriz Ryder

Nature Conservation was the only Australian not-for-profit group to be successful for the WSL PURE Grant Program, which funds initiatives to protect and conserve our ocean. The 2024 recipients span the world with other projects in Hawaii, El Salvador, Brazil, Tahiti, Fiji, and California - each which demonstrates dedication to diversity, environmental justice and Indigenous engagement.

The project was selected as it aligned closely to the WSL PURE goals of teaching coastal conservation, cultural awareness, ocean stewardship, and water safety around Margaret River in addition to supporting and mentoring young people to develop local projects that contribute to the community and help give youth a voice.

WSLOO Margs 2024 WSL surfers (left to right) Jacob Willcox, Ryan Callinan, Brisa Hennessy, Liam O'Brien, Cole Houshmand, Reef Heazlewood, Bettylou Sakura Johnson, Isabella Nichols, and Molly Picklum give back to community by supporting the local impact project with Nature Conservation Margaret River. - WSL / Beatriz Ryder

The A-list of local leaders, mentors and cultural custodians who will guide the participants throughout the program include University of WA's Ocean Institute's Dr Tim Langlois, Nature Conservation's Caring For Coast program officer Mandy Polley and marine debris group Tangaroa Blue's WA program coordinator Casey Woodward. Also hosting workshops is freediving and breath-hold trainer and former Navy paramedic diver Joe Knight, Margaret River Surf Academy trainer and mental health professional Simon Tien, Millenium Kids youth board chair Bella Poll underwater filmmaker Scott Bauer, and Great Southern Reef Foundation researcher Sahira Bell. And in a truly collaborative effort, the conservation busy bee during the Western Australia Margaret River Pro will also include support from the Shire of Augusta Margaret River as well as the Margaret River Coastal Residents Association, whose members work tirelessly to manage environmental weeds, replant natives and educate locals and visitors.

Mr McKenzie said many surfers would know the Margaret River region in the south-west corner of Western Australia for its incredible coastline, amazing surfing breaks, granite and limestone cliffs and marine life. The long beaches, sheltered bays, good fishing and hiking, numerous surf breaks and dramatic coastal cliffs provide plenty of recreational opportunities, cherished by visitors and locals alike.

But he said it is also a place that is under threat from development, land clearing, tourism and recreation, population growth and biodiversity loss. "Increasing use of the coast by the growing number of residents and tourists, together with other threats like climate change, are putting pressure on the fragile coastal region," Mr McKenzie said. "That's why we welcome the World Surf League's decision to help us put the spotlight on caring for the coastline of this much-loved location on surfing's elite tour, and to help to develop a culture of stewardship."

WSLOO Margs 2024 WSL surfers Liam O'Brien, Reef Heazlewood, Ryan Callinan, working together to help protect the coastline. - WSL / Beatriz Ryder

Before the Margaret River Pro starts, a group of athletes from both the men's and women's tour took part in a hands-on coastal conservation busy bee at Gas Bay. It's a popular surfing break and a stunning beach just a couple of kilometers south of the contest site at Margaret River Mainbreak. " We undertook some vital dune brushing, which involves laying down branches across sections of dune to close off access to sensitive areas and give vegetation a foothold. The Shire of Augusta Margaret River is part of the collaboration too, including planning and supplying all the plants and delivering the brush to site." says Nature Conservation's coastal officer Mandy Polley.

Nature Conservation Margaret River Region says the powerful alliance of local groups all working towards the same goal means some great environmental outcomes. It includes:

  • The Margaret River Coastal Residents Association, a group that meets week in, week out to tackle weeding, planting and brushing, doing a lot of the heavy lifting that keeps this stretch of coast in good condition.
  • Undalup Association, which advises on coastal rehabilitation work and represents the indigenous Wadandi people who for 60,000 years have called this place home and cared for country. Undalup is vital in helping locals have a sense of place, and the six seasons of the indigenous calendar guide the timing and nature of the coastal protection work.
  • Great Southern Reef Foundation, run by a team of science, media and education professionals working to promote the recognition, stewardship and health of Australia's kelp forests. These underwater forests stretch from Margaret River along the southern coastline of Australia, providing habitat for an incredible diversity of marine life, filtering and purifying ocean water, and removing vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Tangaroa Blue, which spearheads beach clean-up days in the region and across the rest of Australia, while also recording and adding to the country's most detailed database of ocean-born rubbish and pollutants.
  • Nature Conservation Margaret River Region, the peak environmental and conservation non-for-profit group in the region, which works across a range of focus areas including the coastline, rivers and waterways, weed control, environmental education, threatened species and managing bushland for wildlife. Its vision is to protect and preserve the healthy and biodiverse natural environment on which we all depend.

"Alone, we can all do a bit. But together we can really achieve so much. That's the strength of this partnership with so many local groups working on the ground in the Margaret River region. Each one has a really important role to play, and by collaborating we're all helping each other punch above our weight and have some great outcomes for the environment," says Mr McKenzie.

Genny Broadhurst from the Margaret River Coastal Residents Association says this collaboration "builds and accelerates our objective" - to increase and maintain coastal habitat for endemic fauna and flora. "It also validates our work and expands our horizons and expectations. Through collaboration we have access to a broad range of expertise, enthusiasm and enterprise. It does all of this, while lifting the responsibility of the logistics required to grow beyond our quiet selves. We feel supported, nurtured and part of a bigger team."

Tangaroa Blue's Casey Woodward said: "Working together is vital to tackling global environmental issues like climate change, erosion control and plastics impacts on our marine environment. None of us can tackle these issues on our own - but if we work together, knowledge-share and support each other to explore new solutions, we have a fighting chance."

This year marks the third year in a row the WSL and its surfers have teamed up with Nature Conservation Margaret River Region. For coastal officer Mandy Polley, real results are being seen up and down the Margaret River coast as many local groups work together, combined with big numbers of volunteers keen to get involved on planting, brushing and weeding busy bees.

WSLOO Margs 2024 Local leaders, mentors, and cultural custodians join the local impact project support the youth marine stewardship program. - WSL / Beatriz Ryder

"Every one of us really can make a difference. We're using the coastline for fun and recreation, but it's important we become custodians and stewards for the coast too," she says. "Acting with respect and treading lightly when we're on the coast, learning more about the flora and fauna, joining your local coast care or environment group and giving back - that's the message we're really trying to spread. Wherever you are, you can do your bit."

To find out more, visit www.natureconservation.org.au or find your local conservation group in your area.

As surfers, the ocean is our playground and our stadium. Getting involved in protecting and conserving the ocean is critical for us today and for future generations. Show us what you are doing by posting on social media with the hashtag #WSLOneOcean and tagging @wsl and @wsloneocean in your posts. You can learn more and get involved at WSLOneOcean.org.

WSL One Ocean is a global initiative supported by SHISEIDO and YETI with regional support from Hydralyte.

World Surf League
Download it for free on the App store. Download it for free on Google Play.