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Women trapped in mountains of cornflake seaweed

Brianna Morris-Grant and AAP, December 8, 2019 6:45PM Gold Coast Bulletin

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Kai, 13, Cruz, 10, Beau, 8 and Lola Colless, 5, playing in the mass of seaweed washed up on Palm Beach. Picture: Brooke Colless media_cameraKai, 13, Cruz, 10, Beau, 8 and Lola Colless, 5, playing in the mass of seaweed washed up on Palm Beach. Picture: Brooke Colless


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Masses of cornflake seaweed piled at least thigh deep on Queensland beaches has trapped at least one runner, who had to be rescued from the algae.

Seaweed expert Pia Winberg said it was a bloom of Colpomenia, also known as sea potatoes, oyster thief or cornflake seaweed.

And though not unusual for this time of year, the quantity on the beaches of the southern Gold Coast was unprecedented*.

“We have not seen bigger blooms than the one you’ve got on the Gold Coast at the moment,” she told AAP.

media_cameraVideo shows thigh-deep seaweed built up on Palm Beach. Picture: 9 News

A local woman out on her regular morning run had to be rescued by a passer-by when she became stuck in the thick seaweed that had washed up on Palm Beach.

Darrell Strauss from Griffith University’s Centre for Coastal Management Research said the accumulation* was because of a process known as “upwelling”.

“It happens when we get strong north and west winds for a long period of time like we’ve had over the last few days,” he said.

“The seaweed’s been around for a while, people have been swimming in it in the surf zone.

“But to have it come on shore like that is usually deep water being brought forward as the surface water is blown offshore*.”

High tides are getting lower and lower over the next week, so the seaweed is expected to stay for some time rather than being washed back out to sea.

media_cameraZac Maher (left) and Maximo Le-Sech play in large deposits of algae, known as ‘cornflake seaweed’ at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast, Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Picture: AAP

Dr Winberg said the piles on the beaches could take more than a month to decompose*, but that it could be put to good use as a compost additive.

“It doesn’t make sense to scrape it up and put it in a waste pile,” she said.

Dr Winberg said the seaweed was important in the natural ecology*, feeding marine ecosystems* and increasing local fish stocks.

media_cameraPeople wade through the algae. Picture: AAP

A Gold Coast City Council spokesperson said the council will work with the state government if it needs to be managed.

“The city is actively monitoring the accumulation of seaweed on our beaches,” the spokesperson said.

“At this point in time no maintenance work is proposed to remove the seaweed.”

Palm Beach local Brooke Colless, who often visits the beach with her kids, said it was “crazy” to see and described it as a “mountain”.

“The kids had some fun with it, it feels pretty gross to me but they were swimming in it.”

Gold Coast Lifesaving Services Coordinator Nathan Fife urged people to take care.

“It actually has sea life in it, so just make sure you stay out of it or take a freshwater shower after you get out,” he said.

“You don’t know what’s in it, what’s been washed up. It could be fishing hooks, anything sharp, I’d be very careful.

“The seaweed attracts sea snakes, jellyfish and bluebottles.”

media_cameraThe council doesn’t plan to remove the build up of cornflake seaweed on Palm Beach, but will monitor the situation. Picture: AAP


  • unprecedented: never happened before
  • accumulation: build up
  • offshore: moving away from the shore towards the water
  • decompose: rot or break down
  • ecology: the network of living things in an environment
  • ecosystems: the network of living things in an environment


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  1. What are three names for this seaweed?
  2. What is one good thing about the seaweed?
  3. Is the council planning to remove the seaweed?
  4. What should you do when you get out of the water if you’ve been in the seaweed?
  5. What potential dangers could be in the seaweed?


1. Public notice
It must be a big surprise to beachgoers arriving in affected areas to see the beach piled high with seaweed! Many will wonder what it is, what it’s doing there, and whether it is still safe to use the beach. Help the community out by designing a public information notice that could be displayed at beach entrances to give information about the phenomenon. Your notice should be easy to read and understand, providing the most important pieces of information that you think people will want or need to know.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
The seaweed in this article, Colpomenia, is also known by three other names that are mentioned. Find the three names and write a sentence for each, explaining why you think it may have been given this name.

Then, think about two other names that you think could be suitable and write one sentence for each explaining why you think it is appropriate.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many pieces of punctuation as you can find in green. Discuss how these are being used, where and how often. What level of the punctuation pyramid is the journalist using in this article?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Have you ever seen piles of seaweed at the beach like this? What other strange things have you seen at the beach?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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