Nick Carroll On: The Martha's Dilemma
We have to save Martha Lavinia Beach!
Suport is building to save one of Australia's best (though kind of secret) beachbreaks under threat from a proposed large salmon farm.
Barton Lynch is on board. Last week BL released a statement in support of the fight to protect the beach, calling it “one of the best beachies I have ever surfed”. He joins others, including Tom Carroll, Julian Wilson and the fantastic photographer Sean Davey, in sounding the alarm.
What’s amazing is that until very recently, I bet the vast majority of surfers in Australia didn’t have a clue about Martha Lavinia Beach.
You’ve seen it, for sure. Pros and photographers have been going to Martha’s for at least 25 years. Shots have been piled in to surf mags and ads. Experimental surf contests have been held there. The free-form collaborative movie Musica Surfica was shot there.
But the whole time, it’s been kept in the box marked “Secret Spot”. So secret that only now, when it’s under serious environmental threat, is it being publicly named and located.
Martha Lavinia, on the north-east coast of King Island, is a surfing freak of nature. Facing directly away from one of the world’s greatest swell machines, it nonetheless turns those swells maybe a dozen times a year into magic.
A big Southern Ocean swell will do a double-wrap around the island and approach Martha’s in crossed-up fashion, creating flawless wedges up and down a starkly beautiful line of beach, in what one long term King Island visitor calls “the clearest water I’ve ever seen”. And sure enough, the prevailing wind is offshore.
It’s not easy to score, even if you’re one of the hundred or so surfers on the island. If you’re flying in from the mainland, either on one of the twice weekly King Island commuter flights or a charter of some kind, it’s even harder. Your timing has to be spot on.
All this has helped keep Martha Lavinia in the secret box. And it might have stayed there for another 25 years, had Tassall not raised its head.
Tassall is Australia’s biggest salmon farmer. You may know of the company thanks to a recent ABC Four Corners report which raised big questions about its farming practices off Tasmania’s east coast, where neighbouring fish farmers have accused Tassall of overstocking. Further west, in Macquarie Harbour, mass die-offs of Tassall-farmed fish thanks to water oxygen depletion have occurred, and the company only recently stepped back from a plan to dump tonnes of waste from the farm directly back into the waterway.
Now it wants to explore setting a farm for around a million salmon off the beach directly south of Martha’s. And it's not just visiting surfers who are aghast.
“I’m going to fight this all the way,” Charlie Stubbs told Coastalwatch. Charlie, a diver and fisherman who has taught in King Island schools all his working life, says the farm will lethally imperil King Island’s brand as a source of clean, high end food product. “King Island is dependent on its clean brand,” he says. “But Tassall wants to double production, and King Island offers them better tidal wash-through.”
One thing’s for sure, it’s impossible to see how Martha’s could survive, intact, the equivalent of a giant waterborne cage-egg chicken farm to its immediate south. Photographer/filmmaker Shane Peel says it’s “fragile … the sand itself is fragile. It’s PRISTINE.”
But hang on. Saving this spot means telling all the rest of us about it.
Isn’t this a big no-no? Or is the threat so great it overwhelms the secrecy?
The King Island locals are renowned for welcoming surf visitors, but if that turned from a trickle of in-the-know pros and filmers into a minor flood of hopefuls, how long would that last?
“Even if it’s exposed, I can’t see it becoming crowded,” says Peel. “It’s inconsistent, a rare natural event. It’s hard to get to.”
Mick Sowry, who directed Musica Surfica, says he thinks the spot’s been more of an open secret than an actual one. “A lot of the core surfers in Victoria would know about it,” he reckons. “You could argue that it might bring (surf) tourism, but that may not be a bad thing.” Especially if it can provide some economic argument against a fish farm.
Charlie Stubbs say he understands the tension around surf secrecy. “It’s a point,” he says.
But he makes a pretty blunt point in return: “I guess it’s either share it with the world, or surf in fish shit.”
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