Journal of Applied Phycology

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 1821–1832 | Cite as

Aboriginal uses of seaweeds in temperate Australia: an archival assessment

  • Ruth H. Thurstan
  • Zoё Brittain
  • David S. Jones
  • Elizabeth Cameron
  • Jennifer Dearnaley
  • Alecia BellgroveEmail author


Global demand for seaweed has increased dramatically over recent decades and the potential for seaweed aquaculture to address issues around food security and climate-change mitigation are being recognised. Australia is a global hotspot for seaweed biodiversity with a rich, diverse Indigenous history dating back 65,000 years, including an extensive traditional knowledge of Australian natural resources. In our present review of archival literature, we explored the contemporary and historical uses and cultural significance of seaweeds to Indigenous Australians. We found records of seaweed use by Indigenous Saltwater Australians (Australian Aboriginal peoples from coastal areas across the nation who are the Traditional Owners/Guardians and custodians of the lands and waters characterised by saltwater environment) for a variety of purposes including cultural activities, ceremonial activities, medicinal uses, clothing, cultural history, food, fishing, shelter and domestic uses. Species-specific records were rarely recorded (and/or accurately translated) in the archival literature, with the exception of the use of the fucoid bull kelp, Durvillaea potatorum, which was prevalent. Our research is a step forward in the important task of recovering and conserving Indigenous Australian knowledge and customary traditions surrounding coastal resource use. Unlocking this knowledge creates opportunities for the continuance and revitalization of traditional customary practises that may enable innovative Indigenous business activities and product creation, based around food, sustainable natural-fibre technologies and health. Such research also has the potential to enhance a developing Australian seaweed industry by guiding species selection, preparation, use and sustainable resource management. We recommend our findings are used to inform the direction and locations of further research conducted in conjunction with Indigenous coastal communities in Australia’s temperate regions, to explore in more detail the Indigenous Australian’s historical heritage associated with coastal seaweed resources and their uses.


Historical ecology Indigenous knowledge Macroalgae Traditional ecological knowledge TEK Seaweed industry 



We acknowledge the Gunditjmara, Boon Wurrung and Wadawurrung peoples, the traditional custodians of the lands and waters, of elders past and present, on which this work was conducted and who contributed their knowledge to this paper; and the Saltwater people of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples whose historical cultural practises are documented in this paper. We wish to especially thank the assistance of Uncle Bryon Powell, Gareth Powell, Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, N’Arweet Carolyn Briggs, Tandop David Tournier (dec.), Mandy Nicholson, Dr. Phillip Clarke, Jamie Lowe, Dr. Chris Eira, Paul Paton and Joel Wright together with the Wadawurrung (Wathaurong Aboriginal Corporation) (WWAC), the Boon Wurrung Foundation Inc., the Laka Gunditj Language Program (LGLP), the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owner Aboriginal Corporation (GMTOAC), the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation (EMAC), and the Victorian Corporation for Aboriginal Languages (VCAL) for their linguistic assistance. John A. Lewis and Gerry T. Kraft are thanked for assistance with identifying species from historical records. Research associated with this paper has been subject to an approved Deakin University Human Research Ethics Committee ethics application #2014-107 dated 17 June 2014. This manuscript was improved by comments from John Huisman and another anonymous referee.

Funding information

Ruth Thurstan was supported by an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. Zoё Brittain was supported by student funding from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the Centre for Integrative Ecology at Deakin University. Jennifer Dearnaley was supported by a Deakin University Postgraduate Research Scholarship and funding from the School of Architecture and Built Environment at Deakin University.

Supplementary material

10811_2017_1384_MOESM1_ESM.docx (39 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 39 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Centre for Integrative EcologyDeakin UniversityWarrnamboolAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, College of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of ExeterPenrynUK
  3. 3.School of Life and Environmental SciencesDeakin UniversityWaurn PondsAustralia
  4. 4.School of Architecture and Built EnvironmentDeakin UniversityGeelongAustralia
  5. 5.Institute for Koorie EducationDeakin UniversityWaurn PondsAustralia

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