POSTED: Saturday, December 27, 2008
The Midwest family that Guy Toyama met at the visitors' center of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (see sidebar) was thoroughly enjoying their Big Island vacation.
» Meet at: Visitors' center at NELHA's Hawaii Gateway Energy Center, 73-4460 Queen Kaahumanu Highway, one mile south of Kona International Airport, Big Island
» Presentation and tour: 10 to 11:40 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with a 45-minute tour and tasting at Big Island Abalone Corp. immediately following. The Friends of NELHA also offers a presentation on renewable energy sources on Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon.
» Cost: $8 for adults, $5 for students and seniors 65 and older, free for children younger than 8 for presentation only. The presentation and abalone farm tour and tasting costs $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. Custom presentations for private groups can be arranged at least two weeks in advance. Cost is $5 per person ($60 minimum). Proceeds support FON's programs and is tax deductible.
» Call: 329-8073. Reservations not required for groups of 20 or less. For private group reservations, call Guy Toyama at 938-6325.
» Web site: www.keaholepoint.org
» Notes: Each November, New Waves at NELHA takes guests on tours of four aqua-farms followed by a lunch prepared by top Big Island chefs and the University of Hawaii Center, West Hawaii's culinary arts program using fresh NELHA-farmed seafood and locally grown produce. It runs from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and tickets are $100 per person. Next year's event takes place Nov. 6.
They had ridden horses in Waimea, browsed at the farmers' market in Hilo, hiked in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and snorkeled along the Kohala Coast. Kona was next on their itinerary, and they were game for anything.
"Would you like to tour an abalone farm?" asked Toyama, executive director of the Friends of NELHA (FON).
Looking at him with blank faces, they replied, "What's abalone?"
That happens to Toyama more often than he can count. "Everyone who goes on our tour of Big Island Abalone Corp. either thinks of abalone as rubbery and edible only after it has been pounded with a baseball bat, or doesn't know what it is," he said.
BIAC cultivates premium Ezo Awabi abalone from Hokkaido in northern Japan. Among other things, tour participants see juvenile and mature brood stock abalone and the algae that's grown to feed them. They also can hold and taste the abalone, and they're inevitably surprised when they discover how tender it is.
"They all leave with a whole new perception of abalone," said Toyama. "Our tour is a real eye-opener for them."
Among the largest abalone aqua-farms in the world, 10-acre BIAC is one of 30 tenants at NELHA, an innovative ocean science and technology park that will observe its 35th anniversary next year. FON was formed in 2001 as an independent nonprofit organization to inform the public about NELHA's unique commercial, research and educational activities.
"Our mission is to provide outreach programs that inspire positive public impressions about sustainability and self-sufficiency," said Toyama. "We promote responsible use of renewable resources for energy, aquaculture and related applications, including sea water desalination.
"Hawaii is the most isolated land mass in the world. We believe the companies at NELHA can help reduce the islands' vulnerability by devising sustainable food, water and energy industries."
NELHA rooted in ocean energy
NELHA began as NELH in 1974 when the state Legislature created the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii on 322 acres of land at Keahole Point. NELH was mandated to provide a support facility for research on the ocean thermal energy conversion process.
In 1980, after environmental impact and other surveys were completed and permits obtained, the NELH facilities and first pipeline to draw deep sea water from 2,000 feet and surface sea water from 45 feet depths were constructed at Keahole Point.
By 1984 it had become apparent that the sea water being pumped up for OTEC research could also be channeled into other profitable uses. New legislation legalized commercialization on state property, allowing NELH to host new tenant business ventures. In 1985 the Legislature created the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park on an adjacent 548 acres at Keahole in anticipation of expansion needs of NELH's growing businesses.
HOST Park and NELH were melded into the NELH Authority in 1990.
Excerpted from www.nelha.org
Four days a week, FON offers presentations on NELHA's alternative fuel and renewable energy projects; explorations in marine biotechnology, the large-scale production of marine microorganisms for pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals; and the latest products and processes using sea water pumped from depths of more than half a mile.
"We talk about NELHA's history and how its tenants are creating food security for Hawaii by growing seafood using sea water," said Toyama. "We also discuss how NELHA is taking a leading role in exploring energy alternatives, starting with the construction of three LEED platinum-certified buildings at its new Hawaii Gateway Energy Center."
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, an optional tour of BIAC follows the presentation.
"The abalone aqua-farm is just one example of the important contributions NELHA is making as a business incubator," said Toyama. "NELHA has created over 300 jobs, and that number is growing as more companies start up here."
FON's presentations, tours and other outreach programs not only explain what is being done at NELHA, but what can be done with technology, creativity and seed money. "'Green' is the buzzword right now," said Toyama. "NELHA's entrepreneurs are doing groundbreaking work, and what's even more exciting is the sky's the limit!"