Climate innovation Down Under: Saving Australia’s ocean inspires Gen Z entrepreneurs

Meet a few of Australia’s young innovators whose ideas and drive can help transform the future of ocean health.

By Sarah Murry — January 27, 2022

From mass bleaching events devastating the coral ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef to January temperatures in Sydney that spurred record-breaking warm waters, Australia’s ocean is ground zero for the effects of climate change.

But there’s reason for hope. 

Ambitious ideas from young Gen Z entrepreneurs in Australia are getting a boost from the Generation Impact Incubator from HP and nonprofit Ocean Impact Organization (OIO).  Their winning plans will help tackle one of the greatest challenges of this moment, starting with restoring the continent’s some 22,000 miles of coastline and protecting marine life. 

Some are targeting single use plastics; oil and gas infrastructure, and chemical leaks from batteries; while others are re-thinking materials and manufacturing of consumer products.

“We belong to this planet, and with the power given to us through intelligence it’s important that we take care of our environment,” says Emile Theau, cofounder of Sine Surf, avid surfer with an engineering and nanotechnology degree, and winner of the top prize. “A green and biologically plentiful planet is a bright future and one that we should all work towards.”

Theau started his company after looking into the materials used in surfboards, especially ones marketed as “wooden.” Most are in fact, made primarily of polyurethane foam and fiberglass, with thin wood veneer, and coated with epoxy — all materials that are harmful to ocean health. 

Emile Theau, winner of the contest and cofounder of Sine Surf floating in the Australian ocean with his sustainable surfboard.

Sine Surf

Emile Theau, cofounder of Sine Surf, with his sustainable wooden surfboards.

“Just because a product has been made a certain way for a very long time does not mean that that is the only way it can be made, or should be made,” he says. “In our streamlined and internet-friendly world it’s easy to forget about the full lifecycle of the products we use.” 

Sydney-based Sine Surf makes hand-shaped, hollow wood boards that are milled directly from sustainably sourced Paulownia timber, which enables the finished boards to be both lightweight, flexible yet durable, and more than 95% biodegradable. Paulownia, a tree native to China, is ecologically sound because it grows quickly and sequesters comparatively high amounts of carbon dioxide. 

Sine Surf’s manufacturing processes were reinvented from the ground up, including a new design for the board’s hollow infrastructure, the creation of a nanosilica bio-epoxy composite to coat the outside of the board, and a new CNC machining method. 


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All together, the process produces one-twelfth the amount of plastic waste of regular surfboard production. “From the manufacturing of a product from raw materials to the end of life, there is often a large amount of waste and emissions that we are not aware of as consumers,” Theau says.

As winner, Sine Surf will have access to funding, technology, and expert mentorship from HP and OIO, to help grow the business. This year, Sine aims to expand its production capabilities with plans to collaborate on a new performance line with world-renowned board shapers in the industry.

Curtis Sciacca, cofounder and chief strategist of Underwater shot of his company repopulating coral colonies in the oceans.

Left: Curtis Sciacca, cofounder and chief strategist of Right: The build of coral reef structures in the Australian oceans to save coral colonies.

Other participants in the incubator contest were focused on topics like ocean-powered renewable energy; sustainable fishing and aquaculture; transportation and supply chain management; and ecosystem protection and restoration. cofounder and chief strategist Curtis Sciacca took second runner-up. His research aims to create scalable artificial reef structures to help repopulate coral colonies and rebuild the Great Barrier Reef along Queensland’s coastline. The company filed for a patent for it’s Nurtured reef, which provides a limestone-coated, mineral-rich habitat for natural coral colony development and deters algae growth. 

“Nurtured.Co’s dream is to have a global impact on ocean health, but first we must save the ecosystems closest to home,” Sciacca says. “We are keen to get more artificial reefs out in the water and to continue to fine-tune our restoration practices before we expand and scale up to mass-manufacturing.”

Sian Murray, cofounder of Pleasant State and her cleaning products.

Pleasant State

Sian Murray, cofounder of Pleasant State, was the first runner-up with her eco-friendly refillable cleaning products.

First runner-up was Sian Murray, co-founder of Pleasant State, a maker of concentrated, just-add-water products that help people clean their homes without harmful chemicals and with less plastic waste. “In Australia, we buy over 23 million single-use plastic cleaning products a year,” she says, “I made the conscious decision a while ago to tackle the plastic epidemic head on.”

Pleasant State’s product lineup includes refillable spray bottles, microfiber cleaning cloths, and dissolvable bars that, when mixed with water, produce cleaning sprays for different rooms of the house. 

 “I’m originally from Melbourne and moved north  to the Sunshine Coast to get closer to the ocean. I surf, I swim, I dive… it’s my happy place,” she says. “At its core, I do this because I want future generations to be able to enjoy the same waves, the same stunning shorelines, and the same love of nature that we all experience today.”