[ASC-media] ASC-media Media Alert - New farming opportunities for Arnhem Land sea country

Wendy Ellery wellery at aims.gov.au
Tue Nov 25 10:44:26 EST 2003

MEDIA RELEASE November 25, 2003

New farming opportunities for Arnhem Land sea country

Australian Institute of Marine Science researchers are conducting a major 
expedition to the coastal communities of Arnhem Land, to canvas the 
potential for cultivating sea sponges.

If commercial sponge species are identified, pilot farms could be set up 
within a few months, and a cottage industry within a year.

Testing the waters of Arnhem Land will be AIMS scientist Carsten Wolff. He 
said if marketable sponges are present, they will be processed on board the 
AIMS research vessel the RV Cape Ferguson, where locals will be invited to 
watch, work and learn.

Once seabed surveys are completed and analysed, research plots could be 
established at or near the homelands of Bawaka, Mata Mata and Barrkira, and 
the communities of Maningrida and Wurruwi, where local residents have 
eagerly invited the research and development of this industry.

There is potentially an ocean of wealth in sea sponges with worldwide 
demand for common bath sponges outstripping the current supply. But that 
demand isn't new.

"The people of ancient Rome and Greece believed in the therapeutic 
properties of bath sponges. Interior decorators and painters prefer the 
texture of natural sponges over synthetic ones and they're popular for 
cosmetics application too," Mr Wolff said.

Carsten Wolff has pioneered commercial sponge farming techniques and has 
found they grow from cuttings, don't need feeding, have low mortality 
rates, and over two years have a growth rate of up to 2000 percent.

AIMS is already facilitating one sponge farm trial off Palm Island in North 

"It's an ideal proposition for these remote communities because they're low 
maintenance, once they're attached to ropes on which they grow, they feed 
on naturally occurring food in the sea, there are no feed-pollution issues, 
and farms utilise simple and relatively inexpensive technology," Mr Wolff 

"They're quite easy to grow, easy to transport, and they're one of the few 
marine invertebrates, other than coral, that have market recognition."

The project is a huge collaborative effort involving AIMS, State and 
Federal Governments, Indigenous representative bodies, Lo-Tech Aquaculture 
and coastal Aboriginal groups.

Images available on our web site www.aims.gov.au/news

Carsten Wolff, AIMS scientist, Mob: 0418 716 691, email: c.wolff at aims.gov.au
Wendy Ellery, Media Liaison, Ph: 4753 4409, email: w.ellery at aims.gov.au

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