Gerry: Okay, well first of all, I'd like to point out that Cyanotech, the name comes from cyanobacteria or blue-green algae, and Cyanotech is a microalgae company -- all of our technology and products are based on microalgae. We think microalgae holds tremendous potential for human health and nutrition. There are over 30,000 different species of microalgae, and they produce everything from fuels to very nutritious foods, sometimes even pharmaceuticals. And that's why we're in this area -- we think that microalgae is really an unexploited, vast potential natural resource.
Mike: When you say 30,000 varieties, of course your facility only deals with a few specific strains, correct?
Gerry: That's correct. We're only producing 2 strains commercially at this time.
Mike: And are there specific scientific names in common use, or is it just called spirulina?
Gerry: No, actually the scientific name of what we're producing is spirulina pacifica, and actually there have been some changes in the nomenclature and it's now scientifically known as athrospira platensis.
Mike: Your facilities are located in Hawaii, on the big island, and just curious, could you share with people why that is such an ideal place to harvest spirulina?
Gerry: Yes, as you mentioned, we're located on the Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii. First of all, it's an absolutely pristine environment -- there are no agricultural operations close by, so we don't have to worry about contamination with agricultural chemicals. And it's really the best place in the world to grow microalgae -- we have a very warm, mild climate throughout the year so we can produce throughout the year. We get more sunlight than any other coastal location in the United States, and sunlight is absolutely essential for the growth of microalgae. We get very low rainfall, so it doesn't affect our pond nutrients to any great extent, and also we have access to a very unique resource, which is cold deep seawater pumped up from a depth of 2,000 feet, and we use this cold deep seawater as a source of some 96 trace elements in our spirulina cultures. In addition, we use the coldness of the seawater to run a unique patented drying system called Ocean Chill drying, which allows us to dry our microalgae products in a low-oxygen environment and preserve all the essential nutrients.
Mike: That's a very important difference, I think, for people to understand, because spirulina is produced through a variety of different processes by a variety of manufacturers throughout the world, correct?
Gerry: Yes, it is. We actually are one of the very few places that can culture year-round, and we've maintained our spirulina cultures since 1984, going through many, many thousands of generations. And while spirulina has grown here on the Kona coast, it's actually adapted larger in size, it has acquired higher levels of carotenoids like beta carotene to protect itself against the intense sunlight here, and we call our brand of spirulina "spirulina pacifica." And as mentioned, we use some very unique drying processes to preserve the high levels of nutrients which are produced in the culture pond.
Mike: What happens if someone uses a more harsh drying process, say some other processor in the world that doesn't use Ocean Chill drying, what happens to the spirulina?
Gerry: Well, we've shown tests we have run without our Ocean Chill drying and with our Ocean Chill drying, and without Ocean Chill drying you can lose as much as 50% to 60% of the carotenoid content, like beta carotene and zeaxanthin, whereas if you use Ocean Chill drying you only lose between 5% and 10%.
Mike: So ounce per ounce, when they purchase Ocean Chill dried spirulina, they're getting 45%-50% more of the beta carotene and other carotenoids.
Gerry: That's absolutely right. And the Ocean Chill dried spirulina would be spirulina pacifica or anything that says Hawaiian spirulina. We're the only producers of spirulina in Hawaii.
Mike: That's an interesting note. So people can look for that on nutritional supplements that might be available through traditional channels. They can see Hawaiian spirulina, is that correct?
Gerry: That's absolutely correct, yes.
Mike: And that's always your spirulina then?
Mike: I'm also curious, what kind of facility do you have there? How large is it? How is this physically accomplished, this harvesting?
Gerry: Okay, we're located, as I mentioned, on the Kona coast. We're actually only a quarter mile away from the ocean, and we're located in a park, an aquaculture park called the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii. We have 90 acres in this aquaculture park. We're situated on a lava field, actually, so there's no real vegetation around it. We have leveled this 90 acres of lava, and we have 69 large culture ponds. And each one of these culture ponds is 600 feet long, 50 feet across, and holds about 140,000 gallons of culture medium. And the proper nutrients are put into the culture pond, inoculated with spirulina, and they are gently stirred with large paddle wheels. And the reason for this paddle wheel agitation is that the spirulina grows to such a density that light only penetrates about one inch, so we need this constant motion so the bottom of the culture moves to the top and receives sunlight and growth. We actually harvest each one of our spirulina culture ponds every 7 days, so it's an extremely productive agricultural system.
Mike: That's an interesting point there, but I'd like to mention to listeners and readers, if you'd like to see a photo of this, you have an aerial photograph on your website showing those culture ponds, and that URL is http://www.cyanotech.com. It's quite an interesting photo. In terms of agriculture, I'd like your comments on comparing this form of aquaculture versus growing plants on land in terms of efficiencies and how quickly the crops can be turned over and reharvested.
Gerry: Yes, it's quite remarkable in terms of the productivity. As I mentioned, we harvest each one of these culture ponds every 7 days, and based on protein production, we probably have the most productive agricultural system in the world. We produce 10 times more protein per acre than even soybeans.
Mike: Okay. And soybeans, of course, are known to produce 10 times more per acre than, say, beef or cattle.
Gerry: Oh yes, absolutely.
Mike: So you have 100 times the protein production of cattle ranching.
Gerry: Yes, oh yes, there's no comparison.
Mike: So this has some interesting implications in terms of addressing global malnutrition, potentially. If the funds could be made available, isn't spirulina the perfect food to treat malnutrition?
Gerry: Well, it certainly is. It's extremely digestible, all the nutrients are very bioavailable. Certainly there are some lacking -- I would not recommend anyone eat just spirulina. It's a little low in vitamin C, it doesn't have a lot of fiber, but in terms of proteins and carotenoids, it's unsurpassed as a food.
This article is part of an exclusive interview with Dr. Gerry Cysewski, CEO and founder of Cyanotech Corporation http://www.cyanotech.com, located in Kona, Hawaii. Cyanotech's spirulina and astaxanthin products are available in retail stores (look for products made with "Hawaiian spirulina") or through Nutrex-Hawaii at http://www.nutrex-hawaii.com.
The aerial photo on the left shows Cyanotech's farms. The dark green culture ponds contain spirulina, while the reddish ponds contain astaxanthin in various stages of growth. The dark land mass on the right is a lava field.
Editors note: Spirulina is one of the superfoods I consume on a daily basis. Due to my passion about superfoods nutrition, I traveled to Kona, Hawaii to conduct a series of interviews with Cyanotech personnel. To find all available articles on Cyanotech, just type "Cyanotech" in the search box below. New articles are being added regularly.