'KelpWatch' - Monitoring Giant Kelp Forests in Tasmania
Photo by: Jon BryanPhoto by: Jon BryanPhoto by: Jon BryanPhoto by: Jon Bryan

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History of Giant Kelp Harvesting in Tasmania


Interest in Tasmanian kelp beds as a possible commerical alginate resources first began in the 1950s, with a major study undertaken by teh CSIRO (between 1950-1952) to assess the quantities of Macrocystis on the east coast. The CSIRO estimated a potential yield of approximately 35,000 to 40,000 tons of dry Macrocystis per year, based on a recommended 3 harvests per year (Cribb 1954). Based on these estimates, a commercial license to harvest kelp was first granted in 1958 to Messers, Chegwiddon, Button and Kearns, in 1961 was transferred to Alginates (Australia) Company. The harvesting operations in Tasmania began in late 1963 with the alginate processing operations based at Triabunna (Louisville).


The harvesting operations in Tasmania were essentially based on the commerical harvesting methods in California. The kelp was harvested to a depth of 3 feet by barges fitted with cutting blades (which were pushed into the beds by tug boats). Under the original license conditions, cutting operations were limited to 3 harvests of the same bed each year (as recommended by the CSIRO), with a fringe of kelp left around all beds harvested. Initially, no harvesting was permitted during the lobster spawning season (15th September to 15th December, each year).

Contrary to the original estimates (35,000 to 40,000 tons per year), the annual kelp harvested over the 8 years of harvesting, varied from 165 tons (dry weight) in 1965, to a maximum of 493 tons in 1969. Further, the majority of offshore beds yielded only one crop or harvest of kelp per year (not the originally estimated three).

In 1967 a new harvesting vessel was purchased by Alginates Australia, the 'Alga to enable more of the coast to be harvested. In 1971 Alginates applied for an extension of their lease area for harvesting Macrocystis and to include Bull Kelp (Durvillaea potatorum) on the grounds that not enough kelp was being harvested to make a profit. At the same time extensions were made on the 'Alga' to increase its range. Early in 1973, Bull Kelp was processed for the first time.

Dwindling supplies of kelp became a major factor in the commerical viability of the kelp processing plant. This was exacerbated by low prices for alginates on the world market, and a couple of poor years of harvesting. Late in 1973 the Alginates factory closed at Triabunna.






Giant Kelp Harvest in Tasmania
(Photo by: David Bond)

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Enquiries and feedback: Karen.Edyvane@utas.edu.au
URL: http://www.geol.utas.edu.au/kelpwatch/   Last modified: 15. December 2004