Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sustainable Sunday: Natural Energy Lab Tour

On the Kona side of the Big Island we have a place called NELHA (Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority) that stretches along the coast between the airport and the harbor and houses a diverse  collection of science research facilities, aquaculture farms, and even a charter school that focuses on ocean science. They offer wonderful informational tours of the facilities that include tastings at some of the farms. I was in it for the abalone, but managed to glean a ton of other interesting facts along the way.

Our tour guide, Guy Toyama, began with a presentation in the Gateway center, a building powered entirely by the sun and ocean. We learned all about OTEC, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, a technology that has been used (intermittently) in Hawaii since 1974 to produce clean energy by using ocean temperature differences. The photo above is part of an OTEC plant, built by Lockheed Martin.

Experts estimate that by the year 2050, we will have depleted our oceans of fish. For real. Aquaculture farms, like Kona Kampachi, are looking to close that gap by using sustainable practices to supply hungry fish eaters. Fish farming has gotten a bad rap due to pollution and flavor issues. But Kona Kampachi is doing it right with open ocean cages that do not harm the fragile ocean environment. And it tastes dang good, too. We bought some of their smoked kampachi, but sorry folks it can only purchased at the farm directly. Their fresh kampachi, however, can be found in many restaurants all over Hawaii in the form of sushi, sashimi and poke. So if you see Kona kampachi on the menu, just remember you are doing something really good for the planet by choosing it versus the wild caught and nearly extinct Japanese version.

Our last stop on the tour was Big Island Abalone. We got to see how they are raised and shipped (live!) to points as far as Japan and California. This was my first taste of the little mollusc. Now I know why they are so valuable. Our guide simply placed the abalone, shell down meat up, on a hot grill for a couple minutes.

That's it. No salt or seasonings or butter or oil. Just sliced abalone perfection.

NELHA has many fascinating tenants (not part of the tour but some can be visited individually), including Mahalo Water, which is very deep sea water that has been piped to the surface and filtered. Not to mention a seahorse farm, seaweed farms, shrimp breeders, and a lobster hotel.

If you are on or coming to the Big Island and are interested in science, sustainable energy, or just how a fish farm operates, you will not want to miss the tours through NELHA. They offer a couple different versions of the tour, we went on the Friday "grand tour," which was well worth the cost. Enjoy!

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