Cam Hines, a former co-founder of Mountain Goat Beer, has embarked on a remarkable journey to restore giant kelp forests to the shores of the Mornington Peninsula, while also creating a sustainable source of food that sequesters carbon. The once-vibrant kelp forests along the Mornington Peninsula’s shoreline have been decimated by feral sea urchins and rising sea temperatures. In response, Hines, along with scientist Rob Brimblecombe and former Australian Navy diver Brent “Bert” Cross, founded Southern Seagreens. This innovative venture recently achieved a significant milestone by harvesting Australia’s first commercially farmed kelp off the coast of Flinders, Western Port.
The Kelp Revival:
The decline of giant kelp, scientifically known as Macrocystis pyrifera, is a global environmental concern. These majestic underwater forests play a crucial role in the ecosystem by generating oxygen and sequestering carbon dioxide, contributing to the concept of blue carbon. The Southern Seagreens team aims to not only restore kelp but also create a thriving sea farm that doubles as a habitat for marine life, including fish, crustaceans, and mollusks.
The Journey of Farming Kelp:
Southern Seagreens’ kelp farming process begins with Brent Cross diving to remnant patches of kelp off the Mornington Peninsula beaches. These samples are then taken back to the lab, where spore-bearing parts of the kelp are stressed to release spores. These spores combine and form tiny kelps in a saline solution. Twine-like cords are soaked in this solution for several weeks, allowing the kelp to grow on them. The mature kelp is then threaded around heavy nylon ropes, which are anchored offshore, where the kelp grows in the water column, nourished by suspended nutrients until it’s ready for harvest.
Southern Seagreens is not only focused on restoring native kelp but also addressing the issue of invasive species. Undaria, a feral kelp variety, arrived in Port Phillip Bay in ballast water from Japan. This invasive species threatens native kelp populations and can outcompete them. Cam Hines and his team have taken the initiative to harvest Undaria as a transitional cash flow while helping to control its proliferation.
Southern Seagreens’ efforts have garnered support from the local community and sustainable food advocates. The dried Undaria, or wakame, is sold in packets, mixed with spices and Australian native botanicals, as a version of the Japanese condiment furikake. This innovative product has made its way to local retailers, such as Torello Farm, where it has been well-received by customers curious about the team’s mission.
A Culinary Delight:
Renowned chefs, like Aaron Schembri of Kadota in Daylesford, have also joined the movement. Schembri has experimented with Southern Seagreens’ wakame and harvested native kelp, incorporating them into his dishes. He praises the flavor and quality of the Australian product, emphasizing the potential of regenerative kelp farming in the food industry.
While Southern Seagreens is in its early stages, the team is determined to expand their efforts. They plan to grow and harvest more kelp in the coming years, with the goal of catching up to the scale of kelp farming seen in the United States. Cam Hines acknowledges the challenges but remains steadfast in his commitment to restoring kelp and fostering a sustainable future.
Southern Seagreens’ journey to revive giant kelp off the Mornington Peninsula exemplifies the power of innovative thinking, community engagement, and sustainable practices. By simultaneously addressing the decline of native kelp and invasive species, this endeavor offers hope for a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future. With their pioneering spirit, Southern Seagreens is not only creating a sea farm but also a thriving ecosystem and a model for sustainable aquaculture in Australia.
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