When Ash Sutton realized that the seaweed growing on his farm off the coast of Western Australia had the same texture as lollipop snakes, he started thinking about his next business move.
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Ash Sutton grows seaweed in the Abrolhos Islands off the Western Australian coast. After years of experimentation, he is about to launch two snacks. He prunes new growth from his established seaweed and describes it as a renewable resource
“It’s such a cool-looking product. I thought I wouldn’t refine it or process it, but it wouldn’t be good if it tasted like a lollipop,” he said.
“It feels very stretchy, so I thought this would be a good chew.”
It’s been four years, and he’s spent “a lot of checkbooks,” but he’s about to launch two seaweed-based products as an alternative to lollipops and jerky.
Converting the red spinosum into edible products is a closely guarded secret.
Sutton says the products contain “nothing artificial” and are sweetened with honey collected from his farm in Greenough, just south of Geraldton.
“It kind of comes out of the ocean in the mouth,” he said.
“It has undergone rigorous shelf-life testing… the government red tape has been hard work, but [with] perseverance… it’s very exciting to get it to consumers.”
The seaweed has been developed into lollipops and jerky alternatives. (Provided: Ash Sutton)
Mr. Sutton’s seaweed farm is located in the southern group of the Abrolhos Islands, a rugged, windswept coral archipelago 37 miles off the coast of Geraldton.
Howling winds and swells have made for a difficult farming journey to balance the seaweed getting enough sunlight and shelter from the strong ocean currents.
“You see the cold fronts coming, and you come out the next week, and all your stuff is out of line. I’ve had to move my location a few times because of the weather,” he said.
But the insulation of the Abrolhos makes the water pristine and ideal for seaweed production.
“It’s a lovely place; you’re away from the scum and the ocean too. The ocean here is pristine, untouched by the agricultural waste from the land or anything like that.”
Return to the Islands
Mr. Sutton lived in Asia for ten years, where he noticed that “seaweed was on just about every menu and a normal part of life”. When he returned to Australia, he decided to try seaweed farming.
Ash Sutton has been developing a seaweed farm in the Abrolhos Islands for four years. (ABC Nationwide: Joanna Prendergast)
It was a homecoming after his early years working in the commercial fishery around the Abrolhos Islands.
“I thought, well, I was in doubt about commercial fishing. I still love working in the ocean, and I’d like to do a sustainable business for the environment and the ocean,” he said.
After getting a permit to catch 50 kilograms of wild seaweed, he started his farming business.
“It’s like a big underwater garden, and after four years of diving and looking at seaweed, you train a little bit, hang on, it doesn’t grow very well here, and it only works under that amount of light and that amount of coral,” he said.
“When it has reached a certain size, about three months, I will come over to harvest the cuttings, and it will still grow.
“So it’s sustainable. It’s like never touching the environment again.”