Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »
The Perfect Gift for Travelers: Our #1 New York Times® best selling book »

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Algae Growing Ponds

Football field-sized microalgae production tanks on the Hawaiian coast create a stunning view from space. 

The pristine Kona coastline of Hawaii’s Big Island is one of the sunniest shores in the United States. Combine that with the cold deep sea waters of the Pacific Ocean and you get the ideal conditions for harvesting microalgae.

On a stretch of coast that was once just barren black lava sits a 90-acre algae farm where long multicolored tanks are busy cultivating the mineral-rich organism for companies to sell as nutritional products.

The football field-sized shallow ponds are a mix of fresh water and vitamin-rich water pumped in from the ocean, from as deep as 2,000 feet, and piped to the production facility. The ponds are stirred with paddle wheels to make sure the algae gets maximum exposure to the hot Hawaiian sun. On average the ponds are 600 feet long and hold 130,000 gallons of algae culture media.

The sprawling microalgae production facility is owned by Cyanotech, which harvests spirulina for supplement companies. Its ponds are located on land leased from the Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii, an ocean science and technology park that’s focused on developing green energy, and takes advantage of the pristine deep sea water for different aquaculture projects.

The lab has a visitors center and offers tours and lectures on renewable energy and marine science. The facility is an interesting visit for science lovers with an interest in sustainability. But anyone with an eye for beauty can appreciate the microalgae growing ponds from above. Satellite views of the giant pink and green pools create an otherworldly view of this colorful corner of the Earth.

Know Before You Go

Map coordinates are for the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA). The visitor's center is a building with large solar panels on top.