Bringing beautiful hidden resources to light
For over 25 years, an underwater forest lay hidden deep below the surface of Lake Pieman on Tasmania’s rugged west coast. It took two curious and determined Tasmanians to resurrect the ancient species standing tall 27 metres below and turn it into a successful commercial operation known as Hydrowood.
When pilot David Wise flew his Cessna over Lake Pieman, he would often wonder what lay beneath the surface.
The Pieman River was dammed in the 1980s to provide hydro-electricity. In the process, tannin-stained waters swallowed an ancient forest of Huon pine, Sassafras, Tasmanian myrtle, Celery top and other speciality timbers.
Wise and Andrew Morgan, Managing Director of SFM Environmental Solutions, were resolute on salvaging this precious timber. It would be an Australian first, requiring unrivalled feats of engineering.
A 2012 feasibility study confirmed the possibilities and a dive team was sent to acquire the first specimens. What they found were supplies of rare Tasmanian timber in quantities the world thought were forever lost.
“Taking Hydrowood from an idea to reality took hard work and persistence, but we found a lot of Tasmanian businesses willing to give new ideas a go,” explains Morgan. “We tapped into advanced manufacturing businesses and it was easy to get them excited and supportive of our concept.”
By 2015, the Hydrowood team had become one of the world’s first underwater forestry operations. In the remote reaches of Tasmania’s west, conditions were tough. Innovation was a necessity as the team forged through unchartered territory and in the process, history was made.
How do you find trees that are 27 metres underwater? Sonar was Hydrowood’s solution. From a custom built barge, trees were harvested in much the same way as in on-land forestry operations, but upside down instead. Rather than reaching up for the canopy, the waterproof harvester plunged down below to source this reclaimed timber.
“We are salvaging something that otherwise would be left to decay” says Morgan. “As a forestry company we had a head start in understanding environmental guidelines – the side of our business that matters most. We have ongoing erosion monitoring, stumps are cut to minimise sedimentation, an environmental plan is audited regularly and we use biodegradable fuels.”
Hydrowood isn’t your average reclaimed timber. For a start it isn’t riddled with nails so the surfaces are in pristine condition. Its watery life also informs properties that reduce tension when put through a sawmill. It’s the type of timber that architects, craftsmen and builders dream of working with – and already it has been shaped into boats, furniture and bespoke home features.
“The response from industry has been overwhelming. Starting locally with key partners like furniture designers Simon Ancher and Scott Van Tuil, we now find market acceptance is very strong and in a way, Hydrowood sells itself.
“People’s eyes light up and they think it’s an amazing story. They love that it’s an ethically-sourced, green product. It’s highly sustainable and something they can be proud of working with,” adds Morgan.
“There are a number of layers to our story. The west coast provenance, that it’s sourced from beneath the water, that it’s Tasmanian timber that is so well regarded, the novel extraction method and the ethical tick on top of all this.”
Find out more about Hydrowood.
For information on starting a business in Tasmania look through our Make it Tasmania stories and visit Business Tasmania.