Abalone industry to benefit as urchin fertiliser projects show promise

 In News
Dr John Keane holding a sea urchin

Dr John Keane holding a sea urchin

The natural habitat of abalone has been threatened by urchin barren growth across the Tasmanian coastline, with devastating impacts on the industry. In the past three years, over 1,000 tonnes of the invasive long-spined urchins have been harvested in attempts to remedy the overgrowth. Ninety per cent of the harvest is waste, with only 10 per cent contributing to roe production. The waste comes at considerable cost with disposal costs exceeding $100,000 so far.

Innovation is now exploring the opportunity of converting that waste into fertiliser. The resulting products would increase the profitability of fisheries by decreasing removal costs while also benefiting other agricultural industries.

Horticultural scientist Dr Nigel Swarts from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture and Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) researcher Dr John Keane have long collaborated in researching solutions regarding the urchin overgrowth. They joined Tony Briscoe on ABC’s Tasmanian Country Hour to discuss exciting projects in the space.



Dr Keane’s project, commercial upscaling of urchin fertiliser, funded by the Abalone Industry Reinvestment Fund (AIRF), will explore the conversion of urchin waste into a liquid frost-retardant. Made from urchin gut waste, the liquid has potential to be a substitute for commonly used seaweed spray. Trials on cherry trees and grapevines to test for cold hardiness and bud improvement are set to commence around September-October. Dr Keane will be heading to orchards across the state including the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture and the University of Tasmania’s Forthside Vegetable Research Facility. The liquid trials come off the back of encouraging preliminary results from another project utilising urchin powder.

Dr Swarts oversaw PHD student Paolo Campus’ urchin powder trial on tomatoes which was funded by Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the University of Tasmania. The powder contained various nutrients that fuelled tomato growthshowing it performed nearly on-par with a standard fertiliser. The results of this preliminary trial indicate the powder’s potential as an alternative to lime as a soil ameliorant. The high levels of calcium in the powder aids plant cell wall strength while the boron-dense properties assist the pollination of plants.


Listen to the full interview segment on ABC’s Tasmanian Country Hour.

ABC Tasmania Country Hour video thumbnail

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South Australian Greenlip AbaloneUrchin harvesting diving boat approaching Marion Bar.