Fins Up! Citizen Science and Surfing helping to solve ocean problems

joanna_clarke    May 30, 2017

Climate change is one of the hottest topics in the news these days (no pun intended); and it is wreaking havoc on our oceans. They are now in a state of peril, from issues such as rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification, leading to massive concerns like coral bleaching and massive marine life die off. Scientists are working to gain an understanding of what is happening in our oceans; the shoreline presents itself as one challenging zone to gather information on.

“Researchers and scientists have been scrambling to obtain baseline information about changing ocean chemistry for the past several years, but collecting data in a nearshore environment like the surf zone with high-energy dynamics is not easy.” (Surfrider)

“Science knows alot about the deep ocean, but the coast is a different story. Getting data in this surf zone is tough. Researchers call it a hostile environment, where sensors get tossed by crashing waves and buried in ever shifting sands.” (Today, 2016)

Fast forward to today – three years and 30 scientists later … we have the Smartfin.


The Smartfin + Citizen Science (aka crowdsourcing)

What is Smartfin and how does it connect with the topic of social media? I tend to geek out on all things ocean and conservation related, so the development of Smartfin is extremely exciting! And here’s why…

“The Smartfin is a surfboard fin with sensors that measure multiple ocean parameters including temperature, location, and wave characteristics (sensors that measure salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll are in development).” (Surfrider)

The Smartfin pops into a surfboard like any regular fin does. When a surfer paddles through the water or surfs a wave, Smartfin picks up data through its sensors. This is where the social media comes in. Using bluetooth, the data is sent to the app that is connected on your smartphone, then from there it goes up to the servers where it is processed (Great Big Story). One of the great things about Smartfin is the amount of data that can be gained and the geography it has opportunity to span across. Smartfin is using crowdsourcing (“practice of engaging a ‘crowd’ or group for a common goal — often innovation, problem solving, or efficiency”) for data, through citizen science (“science project or program where volunteers who are not scientists conduct surveys, take measurements, or record observations”) (Crowdsourcing Week, 2017; National Geographic, 2017). One would imagine that there is internal social media used once the data is processed through the server, as all of the data is available to the global scientific community, in near real-time (Surfrider).

What will scientists do with this crowdsourced information? The data from “…Smartfin will … [give] scientists critical insight into what climate change is doing now, and what it will do next. …The chemistry of the coastal zone is changing every day. It’s changing by the minute sometimes, so you have to have a lot of measurements to understand what’s really going on.” (Today, 2016).

And how important is ocean chemistry? Just ask Dr. Andy Stern, neurologist and founder of the non-profit Lost Bird, one of the developers behind Smartfin: “It’s the core. It’s it. Climate scientists will tell you that the ocean holds the key, really, to the future of mankind.” (Today, 2016).

Surfrider is working with Smartfin to enable access for free across United States Surfrider Chapters. The cost to generate a fin hovers around the $200 mark; however, this partnership is working to make no barriers around availability of the Smartfin to enthusiastic citizen scientist surfers. The Smartfin is made by Futures Fins, who is world leading in surfboard fin manufacturing, thus they are ensuring this fin has no compromising factors to riding any regular fin (GMA).

Lessons for Others

Although the idea for product development was not crowdsourced, the data being pooled together by citizen scientists surely is. The current metrics that can be measure by Smartfin are not plentiful, but are growing. What science can do with the plethora of data sets Smartfin will be able to contribute (information that has been extremely challenging to ever obtain) – is quite incredible to think about. It seems safe to assume that the more data that is obtained by citizen scientists, the greater the opportunity for innovation of ideas around new products to further understanding our oceans. Potentially more unique and different ways to gather data of targeted ocean metrics. Smartfin is a unique tool, and with the use of social media and crowdsourcing to bring all of this data together, we are one more step in the direction of understanding a little but more about our oceans, and potentially how to help save them.


“Smartfin is an innovative collaboration with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the world’s leading institutions for oceanographic research; Lost Bird Project, an environmental arts organization that aims to inspire each of us to engage toward a better relationship with the earth; Surfrider Foundation; and Futures Fins, the world’s leading surfboard fin manufacturer.” (Surfrider)

A post shared by Alisa Sadler (@_future_now_) on

Organization: The Smartfin
Industry: Science
Name of Organization Contact: None at time of publishing

Authored by: Joanna Clarke

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AFP RelaxNews. (2017, May 30). Great Barrier Reef bleaching worse than first thought. Times Live. Retrieved on May 30, 2017 from

Añoneuvo, M. (2016, August 10). Ride a wave, save the ocean: Smartfin records data while you surf. GMA News Online. Retrieved on May 30, 2017 from

Citizen Science. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2017 from, National Geographic website,

Surfrider. (2017). Retrieved on May 29, 2017 from

Today Show. (2016, August 28). Surfing for Science: Researchers are using Smartfin to study ocean. Today Show. Retrieved on May 30, 2017 from

Vox. (2017, May 22). How Dead is the Great Barrier Reef? Vox. Retrieved on May 30, 2017 from

What is Crowdsourcing? (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2017 from, Crowdsourcing Week website,