Two curious souls help seaweed find its higher calling in Grates Cove, NL
The sea holds many secrets. That comes as no surprise to anyone who has spent any time in Newfoundland or Labrador where fisherman and beachcombers alike have uncovered everything from decaying giant squid to the time a local fisherman hauled up a rare-to-these-waters long-nosed chimaera.
Terrence and Courtney Howell, owners of Grates Cove Studios in Grates Cove, also now understand that the ocean holds not only mysteries but treasure too. What’s their now unburied treasure? Seaweed!
On the day we met for a chat, the two business owners treated me to an outside claw-foot tub soak in their seaweed bath water. With my face and neck coated in their specially-created seaweed clay mask and the rest of my body soaking in a bounty collected from the sea, this writer experienced their find first hand. The result? A glow that could not be denied.
Stepping over seaweed
What started these two down such a path began with a passion for challenge and adventure. They met in 2004 while teaching in South Korea and were united almost instantly by a shared desire to explore and sample their way around their home-away-from-home.
Courtney was born and raised in a small community in Louisiana, USA while Terrence was born and raised in the Grates Cove area.
The life of adventure that brought this couple to Grates Cove to open Grates Cove Studios involves travel, hurricanes, disaster relief efforts and a shared curiosity and a love of the ocean.
Now, along with their 13 year-old daughter, Phoenix, the family has stepped into the skin care business by almost literally stepping over seaweed while out for a beach walk. The beginnings of what is now 7 Fathoms Seaweed Skin Care started with Terrence having a curious mind. He picked up the seaweed, played with it a little, then brought some home. His hands – often raw from hard work and creating with wood – began to heal. Courtney then began using it on her skin and, over time, saw “huge improvements.”
They began creating products for themselves and for friends, but then they met Doctor Robert Helleur, a retired chemistry professor at Memorial University who had spent his career studying seaweed. The three actually met at Grates Cove Studios where the good doctor had popped in for a bite to eat. The three began talking and the wheels started to turn.
“It was that connection and realizing that we had the same sentiments about how to be sustainable – how to not create an extract that is so chemically laden – that got us all thinking and he offered to consult with us,” Courtney shared. That was two years ago, and they’ve made some impressive strides.
“He’s helping us perfect our extraction process and we now understand we have something unique. We have something that’s very high quality that is not only beneficial for skin care, but beneficial for functional food products and could very well be beneficial for compound pharmacists. So we’re now on this journey.”
There’s much research happening as they’ve now partnered with Memorial University to study the “precious extract that comes from seaweed.”
“We’re just on this incredible journey and we’re getting to new areas of research (on seaweed) right here at home,” Terrence added. The excitement builds as they talk.
“Seaweed is definitely known for all of its benefits, but we’re only now starting to understand more. We’re so used to getting so much of our nutrients and bioactive ingredients from land but because of so many land issues around the world, where research is going now, where development is going, where industry is going, it’s going out into the ocean because the ocean actually holds more beneficial properties than what’s on land,” he continued.
Sea botanicals are about eight times more effective than land botanical extracts, he added.
The research is really just in its infancy stage, Courtney shared, which makes their journey all the more exciting.
“We just happened on the beach that day, it’s not like we discovered seaweed, it’s just, we were there and we were curious. This journey, where we are now, made us realize that the best decision we ever made was moving to Grates Cove,” Terrence said.
It’s not just the seaweed, they say. “This community is incredible. There are 15 kids here. Our daughter’s best friend lives here. Two of her classmates live here in this tiny little town. She has a great upbringing where she can come harvest seaweed with us. She likes to go. She explores this area. She learned to walk on this land and she has friends to boot and has a great quality of life here,” Courtney shared passionately.
They get the best of both worlds, they continue. There’s solitude when they need it and then the area is bustling with locals and tourists at times too. They are in this tiny, little removed town but get to meet all these people and it fills the social side of life that everyone needs.
They love meeting tourists “from wherever” and they enjoy the solitude.
“We can be busy then we move into winter where it becomes much more isolated and we can be more reflective and learn from this environment and create from it. If we had moved anywhere else, it wouldn’t have happened that way. We wouldn’t have discovered the seaweed, our daughter wouldn’t have the quality of life that she has. I don’t know how we got this lucky,” Courtney shared.
Now, it’s not like they don’t work hard – they certainly do – still, they know how good they have things too.
“We work hard. It’s all difficult at times, but everyone’s life is. But we also get to be on this journey that is fulfilling to us. I think people may think we’re crazy, but you know what? I love this becoming, if that makes sense. We are just on this journey together in this amazing place and we are becoming what we were meant to be,” she added.
And what does their “becoming” look like? It looks like the art of unpolished living, she said with a smile.
“The art of unpolished living. That’s it in a nutshell. We try to offer really nice dishes and we try to offer really nice experiences, but we’re always discovering that it’s never, ever going to be polished. There is always going to be an unexpected experience. And I think anyone who knows us, anyone who’s been following us, they accept that about us.”
Like Newfoundland itself, with unpredictable weather, it’s never going to be perfect. “It’s going to be what it’s going to be. The weather’s going to be what it is. We’re raising a child here. There’s always going to be some sort of wildness happening. And for the most part, our customers are very, very open to that.”
And what a relief it is to accept that, she added. Terrence sat looking out at the ocean as his wife finished speaking. He paused, then spoke.
“What a relief it is to feel like we don’t have to be perfect because we’re never going to be. We’re always going to be in the middle of some project but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to do our very best to offer you a wonderful, unexpected experience. You’re on the journey with us. Don’t have expectations necessarily, but come expecting to kind of create your own story.”
Courtney nodded. “I think the pandemic has made people crave what we have. They just want to be, you know? They want to explore, they want to find something that is fulfilling.”
‘Open Your Heart’
After an evening with them – from a seaweed soak to a night’s stay at their vacation home overlooking the seas – I know exactly what they mean.
From the unique food at Grates Cove Studios to the seaweed bath experience to just experiencing and exploring the community of Grates Cove itself, it’s one special place on the planet. But, they caution, don’t just experience it, participate too. Courtney smiled.
“You have to participate whole-heartedly or you’re not going to get it. Open your heart, and your mind, and jump right in. I can’t explain it any better than that.”
To experience unpolished living for yourself, or for more info visit www.7fathomsseaweedskincare.ca or gratescovestudios.ca