It all started with a study on bathing water quality


Surfrider Europe began with just one thing, and so can you. In 1990, a first thought followed by a decision to act in protection of the Ocean brought the organization to where it is today. We begin this series of articles dedicated to Surfrider Foundation Europe’s 30 year Anniversary with a look back our three decades of work to preserve water quality and public health. It all started with our first epidemiological study in 1993.

    → It all started with one epidemiological study.

    → One year: summer of 1993 (From June to October).

    → Led by one group: 75 physicians.

    → One place: Aquitaine’s coastline.

    → One assessment: Identify why water sports activites are causing sickness in ocean users. 638 cases were studied, most of them being ENT, ophthalmological, pulmonary or digestive infectious diseases.

Since then, Surfrider has made water quality and public health one of its main priorities, especially in bathing waters.

Surfrider Europe demonstrating in Brussels in 2005 for a better directive on bathing water quality.

In 1996, a public demonstration and lobbying actions were organized in Brussels and Strasbourg. Surfrider Europe joined forces with Surfers Against Sewage to amplify their concerns to parliamentarians.

This event was organized to coincide with the 1996 meeting of the EEC’s environment commission assembly on bathing water quality. Surfrider Europe did not receive an invitation to the meeting so we gathered outside to make our voices heard!  At the time, legislative texts on water quality standards were outdated; based on the European directive of 1976 and only called for insufficient bacteriological analysis to assess bathing water quality. Parameters such as chemical pollution, hydrocarbons and coloration were not considered. Additionally, analyses were only done from June to beginning of September, in supervised bathing areas. Even then we were asking our governments to better protect their citizens health.

Black Pavilions poster on ending the 1976 directive, Planet Surf Initiatives, 2004.

Ten years later, in 2006, Surfrider Europe was finally granted a seat at the dicussion table. In February, a new directive on bathing water quality iwas published and considered as a major victory for our movement. Indeed, disclosure of bathing water quality to the public is made mandatory in the new directive. A hardening of quality norms, multiplied by 4 compared to former recommendations, is also considered, as well as identifying potential contamination sources. However, surveillance is still carried out during summer season only and neither chemical pollution nor waste presence are taken into consideration.

In 2019, within sight of the bathing water quality directive revision in 2020, a survey was carried out by Surfrider Europe on recreational areas’ water quality data access. Over a month, the survey was completed by 980 internet users from 15 different countries. 75% of them stated that they were 'moderately to not' informed at all about water quality of the areas they frequently visit. 84% of respondents wanted more information on-site through noticeboards and 93% requested to have chemical parameters considered in the analysis.

This year, 27 years after the first epidemiological study on Aquitaine’s coastlines, Surfrider Europe is now a member of the European commission group of experts on bathing waters, and active in discussions on the directive revision, expected by 2020-2021. In the coming year ahead of the next revision, we will advocate for extended surveillance periods, recreational activities community consideration, new follow-up parameters, better access to information and public involvement.

Regarding bathing water quality, you can make a difference by sharing information about your water activities habits through this  public consultation! It is currently on-going to give ones’ opinion about the directive and its application in Europe. It will be handed over to European citizens. It all starts just 1 thing. Make this survey yours! 

Similar articles


Alteo’s « Red sludge »: Pollution in Africa is no better than one in Europe

In 2019, the fight led by Surfrider Coastal Defenders, and supported by other environmental protection or...

read more

Biodiversity in the city

In 2020, 80% of Europe's population live in urban areas. Cities today are vulnerable spaces where biodive...

read more

our values


The passion for the oceans, the coastline and the pleasures animate everyone who supports Surfrider and guides the organization's action.


Surfrider is rooted in the value of sharing and participation through inclusion and diversity.


Surfrider seeks a harmonious relationship between humans and nature.