This is no Bull at King Island Kelp Industries

Heidi Weitjens

This is no Bull at King Island Kelp Industries

King Island Kelp Industries has about 30 active, a few of which are full time and 60 registered Kelp Carters on their books, who hauled and hung the best supply of Bull Kelp in 7 years, 1550 dry tonne. 

Calculated in wet weight amounts to 6 times that amount 9300 tonne collected in lots of about 1.5 tonne per load hooked up on tee poles and left to dry by the elements of Mother Nature.

Summer on King Island with sunshine and a fresh sea breeze dries the Kelp hanging up on the big racks on average in a week, but in Winter it takes twice as long to dry.  Each Kelper tags their racks, when it hardens up Kelp tractors operators drive the Kelp into the factory.

The Factory Team of Locals can process 12 tonne of Kelp in 8 hour work day.  It gets put on a conveyer belt which leads to a furnace to reduce moisture content of under 13%  which can remain stable in storage for a year to keep ahead of supply demand.  Each batch of Kelp then gets milled to quite fine product and then weighed. Post processing, Kelpers are paid on the recorded dry tonne weight.

The latest news is that in its 45th year of business the owner of King Island Kelp Factory, a 200 yro American Company DuPont, has sold lock stock and barrel to International Fragrances and Flavours, as part of an 11.6 billion dollar deal.  Local operations and employment of 6 staff will continue on as normal.

All of the Kelp that goes through the mill at the Factory on King Island is shipped by sea off Island and sold for industrial purposes to supply food chains for further processing and development into products we all consume, or use pretty much daily, even our pets benefit from Kelp in their food.

22 foot containers filled up with bulk crushed dry Kelp for Export to Norway which take 2/3 of the supply for Alginate Production.

20 x 1 tonne Bulker bags fit into a 20 foot container for National Business Customers, ( the bulker bags are similar to the bags used for sheep wool export)

Bull Kelp Forests are again beginning to thrive underwater, despite being stuck to a rock and constantly battling tides and swell to survive, it only takes about a year to be big enough to harvest.  Kelp can reach a thickness of about 12mm after about 3 years growth.

Sometimes it can take weeks for Kelp to appear, the right conditions requires the help of Westerly weather, a decent swell and enough wind to snap the matured stalks away from the rocks and surge up onto beach.

Rain, hail, or shine keen Kelpers situate themselves predominately on the Wild West Coast of King Island awaiting to begin their heavy going labour intensive collecting of Bull Kelp tangled up onshore from dawn til dust.  Sometimes taking the risk of wading into the Ocean before it is sucked away, or in some places bounding over and balancing on slippery rocks to reach for the next stalk.

It would be fair to say that every Kelp Carter at some stage has stopped work to be a Local Mascot/tour guide for tourists and even rescued a few over the time whilst down South at Stokes or Red Hut.  Golfers chat to Kelpers hauling Kelp onto their trailer or truck around the King Island Golf Links Course Coast through to British Admiral and even out Stricklands at Ocean Dunes.

Tourist frequenting the Currie Harbour and Boathouse will often strike up a conversation to work out why anyone would pull lots of big brown weeds out of the water, cut off the head / stalk and cart it away from Currie Harbour Causeway.

Photographers are always keen to capture Cows that love eating Kelp freshly washed up on the beach.  A paying customer that we can relate to, is Seasol, one of a few Local Australian Customers. 

The Kelp Industries gives away Kelp unsuitable for processing to keen Gardeners, who are given opportunity to collect it onsite, with the purpose of suffocating the weeds whilst fertilising their vege’s, plants and flowers long term.

The usefulness of King Island Kelp keeps on keeping on and will continue to be recognised as one of the Islands major Industries and contributor to the Local economy.

Dare it be said that many of us place our King Island Kelp Craft collection handmade by Sandy Robinson in full view to be admired within our homes and of course that of our friends and Family.

*Facts and figures sourced from John Roediger, General Manger of King Island Kelp Industries Pty Ltd

Written by hh  | Heidi Weitjens King Island Distillery

Passionate King Islander | Founder | Sole Trader | Distiller


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