King Island's World-Famous Wave Could Soon Be Destroyed

 An offshore Martha's outtake from Issue 34. Photo: Mat Tildesly

An offshore Martha's outtake from Issue 34. Photo: Mat Tildesly

Something fishy is going down on King Island, the sleepy little Australian isle near Tasmania. According to locals, the island’s world-famous wave known as Martha Lavinia could soon be destroyed at the hands of Tassal, a multimillion-dollar salmon fishing company.

You might know Martha’s as the fabled beachbreak that looks like the waves you used to draw on your school books, but very real and mechanically reeling metres from dry sand. Its dream-like perfection has drawn a slew of famous faces to King Island over the years, including Ben Player, Damian King, Kelly Slater, Eddie Vedder and Craig Anderson. But more recently, it’s been in the spotlight after Tassal revealed it’s exploring King Island’s coast as a possible new space for offshore fish farming – a plan locals believe could significantly damage Martha’s and have disastrous effects on the surrounding ecosystem, the local fishing industry, island tourism, and increase shark numbers in the area.

 Damian King flipping the bird to the camera? The salmon burgeoning fishing industry? Photo: Mat Tildesly

Damian King flipping the bird to the camera? The salmon burgeoning fishing industry? Photo: Mat Tildesly

As we speak, Surfrider Foundation Australia has added Martha’s to its Endangered Waves List, which includes famous spots like Bells Beach and Kirra. The foundation also provides a worthy rationale as to how Martha’s could be destroyed by Tassal’s fish farm – namely, through “impacts on the quality of the surfing waves due to structures within the farm impeding the strength and height of the swell, as it travel north along the east coast”. Translation: the giant structures that make up the fish farms could disintegrate the powerful, groomed swells that roll through to Martha’s, usually unchallenged – much like how a seawall can ruin a perfectly good wave (see: Jardim do Mar, Madeira).

Jason Forbes, a Tasmanian bodyboarder who frequents King Island, claimed both fly-in surfers and locals alike are very much opposed to Tassal's plan. "They’re dead against it,” he said. Forbes also believes surfing is a huge part of the island's culture. “Even if you're a beef farmer on the island, and the surf's good - well, you stop working and you go surfing," he said. Pro photographer and ex-King Island local, Sean Davey, is one of many impactful voices in surfing that hold Martha’s near and dear to them. “Martha is one of the most beloved beaches on the entire island,” he said in a recent interview with The Advocate. “Because the swell often comes from both sides of the island, it creates truly remarkable waves”.

 Ben Player turning into a classic Martha's drainer. Photo: Mat Tildesly

Ben Player turning into a classic Martha's drainer. Photo: Mat Tildesly

Tassal has a history of environmental issues, from quadrupling their use of potentially harmful antibiotics in salmon (while most of the fishing industry was reducing use), to their plans todump wastewater into Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour, relocating entire seal colonies and the recent death of nearly 25,000 fish in Okehampton Bay.

We reached out to Tassal, who claimed that the proposed development would not impact Martha’s, and that their pens are designed to allow the energy of waves to pass through them. “We would never consider a fish farm proposal that altered such a break,” said Tassal’s head of Aquaculture, Mark Asman. “We understand how quickly concerns can arise in the absence of factual information and we are personally reaching out to surfers who would like more evidence based research into wave physics associated with salmon farming activity,” he said.

“Proving suitability for fish farming does not just happen overnight - it takes many months, if not years to complete the proper environmental investigations. Our commitment is to do this carefully and responsibly as well as ensure the community are appropriately consulted at all times.”

True to Asman’s claims, this probably won’t happen in the coming weeks, or even months – and while many of the local’s claims aren’t yet proven, it begs the question: how would you react if this was your local break? Surfrider Foundation lists several ways fellow riders can help save the wave (scroll to the bottom of the page), while an online petition to “Keep King Island Fish Farm Free” has so far racked up 2,100 signatures at the time of writing.

Local surfer Daniel Hendricks has lived on King Island for 16 years, and counts Martha Lavinia as the reason he still calls the island home. "Martha is a very big reason why I still choose to reside on the island... it's one of last untouched areas," he said. Jason Forbes’ feelings are similar. "I want to keep it pristine so future generations can enjoy it too, you know?”

Ben Player surfing the rare Martha's back in the early noughties, when hardcore electro was all the rage.