Summer storms stir up a stack of seaweed

Recent storms have stirred up slimy, smelly stacks of seaweed and deposited them on many of the region's beaches.

It's pretty unpleasant for beachgoers, with bugs crawling and buzzing around the rotting piles of marine algae at beaches including Thirroul, Austinmer, North Wollongong, Warilla and Shellharbour.

The stagnating seaweed, which can be found strewn across sand and rocks and floating in ocean and rock pools, has even led to the closure of the ocean pool at Thirroul.

Thirroul resident and Surf Life Saving NSW director of member services, Gary Chapman waded through it with daughter Pip Fenwick and grandson Will at Thirroul Beach yesterday.

"There's a bit of a build-up, but it's just part of the natural cycle of the beach - it's a bit smelly, but it will wash away and enrich the marine environment as it does," Mr Chapman said.

"I've been in surf lifesaving for many years and seaweed build-up is a regular occurrence.

"I remember at a carnival at Shellharbour Beach a number of years ago, when big seas washed up loads of seaweed - we were knee-deep in weed, which was full of maggots."

Thirroul resident Gary Chapman and daughter Pip Fenwick and grandson Will Fenwick at Thirroul beach yesterday. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Thirroul resident Gary Chapman and daughter Pip Fenwick and grandson Will Fenwick at Thirroul beach yesterday. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

A Wollongong City Council spokesman said big tides and high seas had washed a larger amount of seaweed than usual on to beaches.

"As this is a natural process and an essential part of beach ecology, Wollongong City Council does not remove the seaweed," the spokesman said.

"Thirroul pool has been closed due to seaweed surrounding and covering the entrance to its ocean water intake pipe. Council's lifeguards ... will reopen [it] as soon as possible."

But it's not all bad news, according to the director of the University of Wollongong's Shoalhaven Marine and Freshwater Centre, Dr Pia Winberg.

She said those keen to collect some of the seaweed and add it to their compost would reap the rewards.

"The gels in seaweed that make it flexible are very unique and are part of its defence system against fungal attacks, bacteria and viruses," Dr Winberg said.

"So using seaweed as a fertiliser not only feeds your plants, but makes them more vigorous and resistant to disease.

"In Australia, you're allowed to harvest 20 kilograms a day of seaweed from beaches for your own personal use on gardens. Once collected, it's best to dry it, cut it up and add it to your compost."

At the Shoalhaven centre, Dr Winberg's team is researching a range of uses for the seaweed found along the coast, for animal and human consumption.


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