Surfers equipped with sensors to measure chemical pollution in the ocean

This summer sees the start of the CURL project, run jointly by the EPOC laboratory, Ifremer (France’s oceanographic institution) and the Surfrider Foundation Europe association. This original operation is an example of participative science and aims to equip water leisure participants with chemical sensors, to study their level of exposure to pollutants.

  • 20/07/2021

Surfeur équipé d'un kit d'échantillonneurs passifs dans le cadre du projet CURL ©Camdamphotography Surfeur équipé d'un kit d'échantillonneurs passifs dans le cadre du projet CURL ©Camdamphotography

Developed over many months by Surfrider Foundation Europe, the environmental physicochemistry and toxicochemistry lab (LPTC) team at the Environments and Paleo-environments of the Oceans and Continents laboratory (EPOC – under the stewardship of the CNRS [French National Center for Scientific Research], the EPHE research institution and the University of Bordeaux) and the BE* and LERPAC** teams at Ifremer, the CURL project – “Chemical contamination of the marine environment: contribution to evaluating exposure to chemical substances during water-contact activities” – is entering its operational phase. Supported by the COTE LabEx Laboratory of Excellence, the project sets out to equip water leisure participants with passive sampler kits in order to study the chemical quality of the water they are in.

The number of people engaging in recreational water activities at the ocean edge (swimming, surfing, diving...) is constantly increasing. All year round there are many ocean users, of all ages, immersing themselves in coastal water, including in locations far away from supervised, controlled swimming areas. Since the ocean is the final receptacle of continental water and its pollution, people immersed in it may risk exposure to cocktails of chemical micro-pollutants which are hazardous to their health. 

Therefore, the CURL project aims to monitor this exposure to pollutants by means of a passive sampler kit that can be used by people active in the ocean, to evaluate their exposure in their activity location. Following the example of dosimeters used in industrial contexts to monitor personnel’s exposure to physical or chemical agents (e.g. radiation, gases), the passive sampler kit collects samples of micro-pollutants, both organic (e.g. pesticides, pharmaceuticals, body-care products) and metallic (aluminium, cadmium, copper, mercury, etc.). Laboratory analyses will then precisely evaluate the ocean users’ level of exposure to some of these micro-pollutants.  

Surfers, sentinels of the marine environment

The first, decisive testing phase begins in July 2021, thanks to volunteer surfers on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. It will gather initial data that will help to characterise the ocean users’ level of exposure to chemical substances. This information is necessary to gauge the risks to health, and subsequent operational stages of the project depend on the outcome. In a second step, the data, analyses and interpretations will be utilised at local, national and European scale so that all the relevant stakeholders will be aware and informed about the challenges linked to “Water, Uses, Health & the Environment”.

*BE – Biogeochemistry and Ecotoxicology unit within the Ifremer Atlantic Centre, Nantes

** LERPAC – Ifremer's environment resources laboratory of Provence-Azur-Corsica (Laboratoire environnement ressources de Provence-Azur-Corse)


Hélène Budzinski
CNRS researcher and LPTC team leader (EPOC laboratory)