Seaweed excites this marine scientist – even though it nearly killed her

On a summer’s morning in 2019, in the small New South Wales farming community of Bolong, on the Shoalhaven River, Dr Pia Winberg walked into the processing plant from which she was building her budding seaweed business.

Winberg had overnight left a tank of liquid to filter. It contained an extract of a native species of Aussie seaweed — with the sci-fi-esque name of “Species 84.”

She was emptying a vat of the concentrated gel, with her hair tied back, a cap on, and eye protection in place just like any other day at the plant. It’s there her memory stops.

The next thing Winberg remembers is crouching down on the floor with her long brown hair stuck fast somewhere above her.

“All I felt was a frustration,” Winberg says. “A bit like when your hairbrush is tangled, you don’t know whether to turn it left or right to untangle. Then I just sort of sighed and looked down at my hands and thought, ‘why are they red?’”

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