Kelping On King Island

by Roger Findlay

Filling out my annual tax return, I started to think of unusual occupations.  Just down the road from us there is a company called Artificial Breeders.  The guy that “milks” the bulls has great difficulty with his job description and I guess those at the Tax Office would be wondering about the authenticity of a Kelper.

Kelp - King Island
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Roger contemplates life as a kelper on King Island, Tasmania

King Island Kelper

There’s not a lot of work on King Island apart from the dairy, beef, tourism, shipping and cray fishing industries.  For a guy that needs to make a living, the unusual occupation of kelping is an option.  By registering with the Currie based Kelp Industries, one is able to acquire a licence and number to collect Bull Kelp from the rugged coastline and sell it for processing.


 

The job is not a glamorous one as it entails an early rise and hopping over slippery rocks with a bitter wind constantly nagging.  On a summer’s day the work can be a pleasure but, in general, it’s a hard way of making a living.

Kelp - King Island Coast
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Rugged coastline of King Island: Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania

Bull Kelp

Bull Kelp is quite common on the eastern and western flanks of Tasmania as well as the southern part of King Island.  It grows at the rate of 10cm per day and is washed ashore in the swirls and swells that caused so many shipwrecks around the island.


 

It is valued for its high alginate content.  The alginates are the derivative of processed kelp and can be used in detergents, soaps, shampoos, grouts and foodstuffs to name a few.  It is also being promoted as a substance suited to health and well-being.  Cows that have access to the beach prove that point.  They love Bull Kelp; pregnant cows especially go into a frenzy at the sight!

Kelp - Seaweed on King Island
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Kelp washed ashore on the beaches of King Island

Kelping: Have Licence & Equipment…

Once you’ve got your kelping licence and your number, you’re going to need a light truck with a winch.  It may be advisable to coat the vehicle and equipment with a good quality rust preventative before you start backing it into the shallow, salty waves.  Yes, the winch and cable needs a good coating too but at the end of the day the sea will have won and your valuable equipment will begin to rust.

Kelp - Kelping on King Island
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Kelping equipment required to collect the seaweed includes a light truck

If you decide to continue as a kelper, you may be looking at major restoration or new equipment in a very short time.  Is it really worth it?

Kelp: Fetch it, Dry it, Weigh it, Ship it!

There are fewer than sixty kelpers on King Island and only a few of those do it as their main occupation.  They don’t get too excited as they hang their haul on the galvanized racks, as they know that the kelp will dry down to one fifth of its original weight and that will govern the payment.  Kelp Industries processes about 2500 tonnes per annum and ship it to the sister company (ISP Alginates) in Scotland.

Kelp - Kelping Process
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Kelp Industries pays the kelpers by weight after the seaweed has dried on racks

Kelp - Drying Racks
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Drying racks for the Bull Kelp collected from the coast of King Island, Tasmania

Somehow, I don’t think there would be many kelpers needing to submit a tax return.  Surely the depreciation of equipment would outweigh the income!

Roger Findlay is our travel writer.  Literally!  He spends all his
holidays in Tasmania, then writes about the experience for Think Tasmania.
If you’d like Roger to visit you in the name of research
(so we can publish information about your business), please contact us.

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Map: King Island, Tasmania…