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Jobs welcome but locals urge caution on seaweed harvesting

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by S Lowe 5THE FM newsonlinewattlerange

Locals urge caution regarding seaweed harvesting in the Rivoli Bay area; describing the area as a fragile sand based coastline; in the lead up to Tuesday’s breakfast meeting with new owners of Australian Kelp products, GGOG.

“Seaweed on the beach slows erosion; when the weed is deposited on the beach it traps sand and slows down the waves that cause erosion. Seaweed is an integral part of the ocean and seashore ecosystems and in light of serious erosion problems of Rivoli Bay and the economics of professional and recreational fishing, we are urging all parties to think carefully before supporting any removal of seaweed from ‘our’ beaches, ” said Kym and Liz Redman

A breakfast meeting with Wattle Range Council, the Millicent Business Community Association, members of the community and Gather Great Ocean Group ( GGOG) who have purchased Australian Kelp Products, was held on Tuesday morning. The only commercial seaweed licence in South Australia was previously owned by Bevan and Susan Mills, to harvest seaweed from the beaches on the South Australian Limestone Coast, for the production of liquid kelp fertilisers and dry seaweed products for livestock supplements.

In 2013, Australian Kelp Products received a government grant of $38,045-00 to upgrade their facilities near Millicent in the South East, but have since sold to GGOG.

Flinders University is to receive $450,000 over three years from GGOG in a research agreement between Flinders and GGOG to further research into the potential conversion of seaweed into a range of high value products including foods, cosmetics and medicinal compounds.

Minister for Science and Information Economy Hon Grace Portolesi MP officially opened the world class marine biotechnology laboratory on seaweeds at Flinders University on 13 March 2013. The event saw a research agreement between Flinders and the Gather Great Ocean Group (GGOG) of China entered into at the ceremony.

Ms Portolesi said the research and technological advancements stemming from the laboratory will help contribute to the State’s advanced manufacturing capacity. “This research partnership will help to position South Australia as a key player in macroalgae research, an industry estimated to be worth more than $2 billion in the Asia-Pacific currently,” she said. “The level of international interest highlights the extremely high quality of research that South Australia has to offer.

“Flinders University has a proud record of research and this collaboration shows the important role South Australian researchers play both internationally and locally. South Australia’s research and development capabilities truly are world class. This collaboration also shows the potential to harness our research capacity, applying this research to commercialise products that will hopefully generate new export opportunities, revenue and jobs.”

The Flinders University – GGOG Advanced Macroalgae Biotechnology Joint Laboratory initiative is a collaboration between the Flinders Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development, and GGOG. Director of the Flinders University Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development, Professor Wei Zhang, said the new macroalgae research lab would develop sustainable technologies to convert beach-cast seaweed in South Australia into a range of high-value products, including functional foods, cosmetics, medicinal compounds and improved eco-friendly agricultural chemicals.

“The southern waters of South Australia have a huge diversity of macroalgae types that are a rich source of food and chemicals,” Professor Zhang said.
The project’s industry partner GGOG is China’s largest privately-owned seaweed-derived chemical and processed products company, and is based in Qingdao, Shangdong Province, which is South Australia’s sister state. It’s products include alginate, carrageenan, alginic acid, iodine, mannitol and seaweed protein feed. It operates a 20 acre ISO, GMP, Kosher, Halal and food safety certified clean-technology plant that employs 530 people. The company is also the “National Seaweed Processing Industry R&D Sub-Centre” in China and exports to more than 30 countries around the world.

This project was subsequently awarded a $300,000 South Australia Premier’s Research and Industry Fund International Research Grant on 26 April 2013, for a 2013 – 2015 project phase focusing on developing clean and sustainable technologies for the manufacture of high-value macroalgae derived products, and understanding the macroalgae resources on South Australian coastlines. “

The joint laboratory welcomes research collaborations in both fundamental processing technologies for various macroalgae species, as well as applied science in product development and product trials. The joint laboratory also welcomes industry collaborations where businesses can partner with GGOG in new ventures or product development. The Centre welcomes postdoctoral fellowships and higher degree research student applications for research in macroalgae at the joint laboratory. http://www.flinders.edu.au/medicine/sites/marine-bioproducts/ggog/ggog.cfm

A short film about the GGOG was shown at Tuesday mornings meeting and the information is available by clicking onto the link above.

Spokeperson for GGOG, Mr Walt Wu, said at the meeting on Tuesday that sustainable processes in the operation of seaweed harvesting will be in place;  there is a huge growth potential in the industry for the Limestone Coast region; and while the predicted 200 jobs are achievable, the time-frame for those jobs to eventuate is still not definite.

Professor Chris Franco and Raymond Tham from Flinders University Research described the partnership between the University and GGOC and the positive outcomes in finding beneficial uses of kelp and the opportunities available for students to enter into a variety of employment option through research studies.

During question time, Cnr John Drew said the possibilities were exciting but questioned the sustainability of the operation and asked what plans were in place for the disposal of waste.

Spokesperson for GGOG said that disposal of waste was still being investigated and they realized there was still a need to work on the waste but in time it is hoped that 100% of the seaweed collected would be used, lessening or reducing waste markedly.

Local Businessman Brian Foster asked if there would be ocean harvesting or just beach, who will monitor the harvesting, will float balls be used in the ocean off the local coastline and which kelp would be used from local shores.

Spokesperson for GGOG said the current plan is to beach harvest, with the possibility of ocean harvest in the future. At this stage there are no seaweed ocean farms in Australian waters but GGOG are working with SA State Government to see if ocean farming in Australian oceans is possible. Wild harvest will take more research before decisions can be made.

The preferred seaweed is kelp and sorting will be a  big job as the Beachport Southend beach has an estimated 100 types of seaweed, but only four will be used at this time.

Mr Brian Foster has lived all his life in the region; is an experienced diver and while pleased the venture may bring jobs to the region and valuable products be made from a local source, is keen to see the project carefully managed, the eco-system respected and careful and consistent monitoring in place.

GGOG spokesperson said  monitoring by Primary Industries Regions SA (PIRSA) once a year, was planned at this stage.

In Mr Fosters  experience, he said seasonality depicts seaweed quantities. Some years there is plenty and then other years there may be very little, so sustainability will need to be carefully investigated. He said today (Friday) he hopes the fishing industry would not suffer a negative impact if ocean harvesting is introduced.’

An estimated 4 containers of dried seaweed per month to be collected from local beaches,  sustainability is a consideration with seasonality being a factor in the regeneration of seaweed. Mr Leo Lin told wattlerangenow today (Monday4th August) that this month only 1 container of seaweed will be exported and all environmental aspects will be carefully monitored in the coming months and years.






One thought on “Jobs welcome but locals urge caution on seaweed harvesting

  1. Another sell-out of the Environment taking place. Too many unanswered questions for my liking.