These Vivid Magenta Ponds Are the World's Largest Beta-Carotene Farm

Illustration for article titled These Vivid Magenta Ponds Are the World's Largest Beta-Carotene Farm

Beta-Carotene, as far as I’ve known since I slogged through 8th grade Biology, is a pigment that gives sweet potatoes and carrots their color. But since it's used as a food dye and plenty of doctors recommend it as a supplement, it’s also the basis for a booming synthetic farming business—one we rarely see, since it’s based in rural Australia. But these photos, by Australian photog Steve Back, give us an unusual glimpse inside the world's largest β-Carotene farm.

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According to a story in Feature Shoot, Back was commissioned to shoot some conventional aerial landscapes by a luxury hotel in Perth earlier this year. Flying over the the rugged coast north of the city, the plane crossed over Hutt Lagoon, a salt lagoon separated from the ocean by a thin strip of land. Back explains:

I had noticed these lakes on the map and Google Earth, and decided that they were worth a look. From the ground, the pink coloring is not so evident and a bit unimpressive, yet from the air, it looks fantastic. These are natural landscapes but the coloring is out of this world. And at first sight it is not easy to tell whether they are close up or far away.

Hutt is home to the biggest algae farm in the world, a 4.5 million-square-foot warren of saline water and algae owned by Cognis, the massive German pharmaceutical company. There, Cognis has farmed beta-Carotene for over thirty years—it's used to color food like margarine, but also to create the coatings on pharmaceutical drugs.

It's fascinating to catch a glimpse into such a well-established but obscure industry—and it makes me wonder what other supplement farms are out there, waiting to be discovered by the world at large, entirely on accident. Now that we've discovered beta-carotene farms, it's only a matter of time before we get an exposé on New Zealand's notorious fish oil mines.

Illustration for article titled These Vivid Magenta Ponds Are the World's Largest Beta-Carotene Farm
Illustration for article titled These Vivid Magenta Ponds Are the World's Largest Beta-Carotene Farm
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Illustration for article titled These Vivid Magenta Ponds Are the World's Largest Beta-Carotene Farm
Illustration for article titled These Vivid Magenta Ponds Are the World's Largest Beta-Carotene Farm
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Illustration for article titled These Vivid Magenta Ponds Are the World's Largest Beta-Carotene Farm

DISCUSSION

I remember one of my professors in med school showing up with an unearthly orange skin color one day. He explained he was taking beta carotene as part of a medical trial to see if it was beneficial in preventing (I believe heart) disease.

The trial was cancelled shortly thereafter when it began to demonstrate a negative effect on study participants.

I don't believe beta carotene supplementation is still considered mainstream medical advice, though its use as a coloring agent or tablet coating is probably harmless.