New Paper: Aboriginal uses of seaweeds in temperate Australia: an archival assessment

Abstract: 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 for a variety of purposes including: cultural activities, ceremonial and medicinal activities, 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 practices 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.
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 practices are documented in this paper.
Image Source: National Museum of Australia, © Trustees of the British Museum

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