Raglan is famous for having one of the longest left-hand breaks in the world. And on very rare occasions you can surf for two kilometres. But what happens the rest of the time?

Researchers are hoping to soon have a better understanding of how surf breaks work and how they can be preserved and protected.

"We need data and understanding to manage the resource and without an understanding, we cannot manage it effectively or sustainably," says Oceanographer, Ed Atkin. "You hear, the old boys will always say 'aww it used to be so much better when we were younger' but you can't prove that."

Mr Atkin and his team of surfing scientists have mounted cameras in Raglan and 6 other surf breaks around the country: Piha, Whangamata Bar, Wainui Beach, Lyall Bay, Aramoana, and Whareakeake. Twelve thousand photos are taken every hour and analysed to measure and compare the gradual movement of the surf break over time.


"If we know the geographical location of each pixel that means we can measure things. We know the distance between pixels we know the distance between the top of the image to the bottom of the image, in metres, " Mr Atkin says.

The connectivity is supplied free-of-charge by Vodafone, looking to promote the Internet of Things.

"Increasingly it's about things like sensors connecting across the internet in real time and to each other," says Vodafone's, Scott Pollard. "In this case, we're connecting the cameras that eCoast are using to monitor the environmental circumstances on the coast."

In Raglan, the researchers will use the information to create guidelines for how coastal surf breaks can be managed. It could also provide evidence of how coastlines are threatened by activities such as dredging, coastal wall construction, marine farms or seabed mining.

"The baseline data provides a reference point for any scenarios that a coastal developer or anyone wants to do," Mr Atkin says. "They can refer to the database and research and then it's their responsibility to show that there won't be any noticeable change from that baseline.

It's important data to collect because surf breaks are increasingly recognised as a valuable economic resource and this kind of data doesn't currently exist.

"Surfonomics, which has come out of North America is showing the monetary value of individual breaks and it's into the millions of dollars per annum for just a single surf break," Mr Atkin says. "Surfers are coming to New Zealand to enjoy the world class waves so there is that tourism factor and that's not going to happen if these resources (the surf breaks) don't exist. And if we want to maintain the resources then we need to maintain them properly."

The project is funded by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment until October next year and Mr Atkin hopes it can continue with new funders.

The plan is for these surf breaks to be preserved and better understood so Mr Atkin, and other surfers from near and far can keep coming to the very rare left-hand break in Raglan.

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