Jo Lane of Sea Health Products has what many would consider ‘the perfect job’. During the Summer months she spends her days with bare feet in the sand, foraging for fresh kelp in the sparkling clear, shallow waters along the New South Wales Sapphire Coast.
But despite the idyllic setting, Jo assures us that it’s actually a very physically demanding role. ‘Wet seaweed is surprisingly heavy, so it can be backbreaking work,’ she says.
Jo, a kelp farmer from the Tilba Tilba region in southern NSW, is a woman on a mission. Her goal? To pioneer commercial kelp farming aquaculture in Australia… and help save the world.
It may sound like a big claim, but this humble species of seaweed has a unique and remarkable ability to tackle the climate crisis.
In the Australian film ‘2040’, released earlier this year, filmmaker Damon Gameau explored what our future could look like if we simply embraced the best solutions available to us right now. The film identified several regenerative solutions with the potential to address our climate change woes.
One of those solutions is seaweed.
With a background in marine science and environmental conservation, Jo has known of the regenerative benefits of kelp for years.
‘Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a known human impact on the earth, is driving rapid climate change. Kelp farming can actually absorb that carbon dioxide, which is vital for mitigating climate change and also in addressing ocean acidification,’ explains Jo.
Along with her husband Warren Atkins, Jo owns and operates Sea Health Products, making small-batch products from the seaweed they harvest by hand.
‘We collect fresh kelp from a number of beaches along the south coast. We then wash it in mountain water, dry it on specially built drying racks, process it by hand and sell it as a food product in the form of flakes and a ground powder.’
While most people know that seaweed is good for them, few understand how far-reaching the environmental and health benefits actually go.
‘Kelp is a natural multivitamin, is high in iodine and is fantastic for gut health and the thyroid. So it’s incredibly beneficial for both the health of the planet and for humans,’ says Jo.
‘As well as a food product, kelp can be used in skin care, cosmetics, in feed for cattle and sheep, as an agricultural fertiliser. It can also be used as a biofuel, reducing our need for fossil fuels. The list of uses and benefits is almost endless.’
While Jo’s business continues to grow – ‘we receive inquiries regularly from wholesalers wanting to include seaweed in their food products’ – she has her sights set on much loftier goals. They’re committed to building the seaweed farming industry in Australia.
‘To achieve any kind of significant environmental impact we need to see kelp farming growing on a big scale in Australia – much bigger than anything just myself and my husband can achieve alone.’
While kelp farming is being trialed in Tasmania alongside salmon farming, there are currently no commercial kelp farms here in Australia. It’s a situation that Jo wholly intends to change in the near future.
As the recipients of a Churchill Fellowship earlier this year, Jo and Warren recently returned from a three-month research trip that saw them visit Korea, the US, Ireland, Scotland, Faroe Islands and Norway, observing and learning from kelp farming practices and processing facilities in those countries.
‘It’s enabled us to bring some incredible knowledge back to Australia. The trip really ignited something in me. People are looking for hopeful solutions and kelp farming is something that I know can contribute to solving our environmental dilemmas.’
For more info on the environmental benefits of kelp farming, check out this illustrated guide from our friends at Matters Journal.