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Historical Background

Nancy Adams had a remarkable introduction to seaweeds as a teenager working in the DSIR during World War II with botanist Lucy Moore, whose investigations into New Zealand seaweeds started an agar industry here.  Previously, Japan had supplied all agar, but with the advent of war new sources were urgently sought.  Agar was needed as a microbiological culture medium, and also for meat canning to feed soldiers at the front. 

Nancy maintained the collections of seaweeds made by Lucy Moore as she travelled around the coast in the early 1940’s looking for potential agar sources.  After the war, Nancy joined the National Museum and began building up what is now the biggest collection of seaweeds in the country.  Some 300 new species of seaweeds have been found in the past two decades, giving a New Zealand total of over 1000, and more are being found each year.

The difficulties of making complete collections from the tremendous variety of underwater habitats around an indented coastline longer than that of the continental United States are enormous, and many amateur collectors have played an important part in this knowledge gathering.  Victor Lindauer, sole charge teacher who lived in Northland and Taranaki in the 1930’s and “40’s added enormously to this knowledge.

So too did Eileen Willa of Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island.  Now in her late 80s, and retired to Invercargill, she lived most of her life near perhaps the richest collecting beach in the country, Ringa Ringa Bay.

Lindauer named the kelp Durvillaea willana after her.  She was the first to notice that some bull kelp had branches like trees and could not be split for mutton bird bags.  The species is now recognised to be as common as Durvillaea antarctica around much of the South Island.