For Nicola Thomas, the ocean and the diversity of life it holds has been a lifelong passion. Now based in Albany, Thomas grew up in the coastal suburb of Floreat in Perth, only a quick bike ride away from the beach. Growing up almost living on the beach, she remembers being fascinated with the diversity of life in our oceans from a young age. “I was down at the beach all the time,” she said. “My family owned a boat as well, so we were always out on the water or down at the beach. “I love being able to find something on the beach and trace back where it came from and what it is. “I think we were on Rottnest or Garden Island one day, and Mum set this competition to see how many different types of seaweed we could find. “My siblings and I kind of got carried away and found so many different species, the variety of it was just incredible.” After falling in love with Albany while finishing her marine biology degree at the UWA campus, Thomas made the move in mid-2019. “I did two weeks of fieldwork down here for my undergraduate degree — I was studying at UWA in Perth, three days into those two weeks I decided I wanted to live here,” Thomas said. “My undergrad is in marine science and conservation biology; I’ve wanted to do that since I was about eight years old. “Seaweed was my biggest interest and I was trying to work out a way of getting botanical images of seaweed up on my wall. “I absolutely love botanical illustration, and I love having it up on my wall. I think it’s super beautiful, but I don’t have the drawing ability to do that for myself. “I used to press flowers as a kid and one day I just put two and two together and thought, I wonder if this would work, and it did. “So now I just keep looking for different species to press and it’s really interesting.” Thomas has channelled her love of Albany’s coast into her art, creating beautiful frames of pressed seaweed showing off the huge diversity of colours, shapes and species that thrive in the waters of the Southern Ocean. “Just the variety of both terrestrial and marine life is incredible, the seaweed down here is insane,” she said. “Every snorkel you go on you’re seeing different species you haven’t seen before. “The coastline meanders, you have got bays facing every direction so you’ve got different wave action and different wave energy creating different patterns in seaweed species and seaweed distributions. “It’s very beautiful.” Thomas creates her seaweed frames under the name Southwest Seaweeds and has been pressing seaweed for three years. Inspire caught up with Thomas as she was preparing for her “Beach Cast” exhibit currently on display at Albany’s Historic Whaling station until January 28. In conjunction with the exhibition, Thomas will also be running seaweed-pressing workshops at the Whaling Station over the summer holidays. “They are a couple of hour-long sessions,” Thomas said. “We go for a walk on the beach and collect some seaweed then go through the steps of how to press it. I’m also going to be providing some pre-pressed seaweed for people to frame up as well.” Thomas describes her art as a lot like flower pressing with a few extra steps. “All the seaweed I collect from local beaches, I wash it and lay it out the way I want it to dry,” she said. “Then I leave it for a week or two and then frame it up. “I identify them and put their scientific name in the frame as well.” Thomas also explained to Inspire the legalities of collecting seaweed. “In WA you can collect seaweed off the beach as long as it is already detached and what they call ‘beach cast’,” she said. “So washed up on the beach it’s fine to collect as long as you are not clearing the beach and as long as you are not collecting from within a marine park. “If it’s washed up you can take seaweed home, you can dry it and eat it, you can put it on your garden. You can do so many things with seaweed.” Thomas’s passion for seaweed and the ocean is clear in her artwork — lovingly and painstakingly collected, dried and labelled for all to appreciate the beauty and diversity of marine life in our Southern Ocean.