How to Grow Phytoplankton

The oceans are a mess, polluted with plastic, oil and factory runoff. We’re all guilty of contributing to the disaster. Pollution is from litter, microbeads in toiletries, boats, industrial spills and many other sources. The amount of human-made waste that winds up in our oceans is astonishing.   

Whether you admit it or not, the oceans are vital to our survival. Within their depths are sources of oxygen and nutrition unparalleled on land and essential for all life on Earth.

Marine phytoplankton is a prime example, offering environmental and nutritional benefits. To discover more about the benefits of eating marine phytoplankton, check out our Top 10 Benefits of Phytoplankton blog post.

At Activation Products, it is extremely important to us that our products enrich the health and quality of life of our customers. Given how polluted the oceans are, we knew that we could never harvest phytoplankton directly from the sea. The pollution in the water would contaminate the plankton, making it unsafe to eat.

So we asked ourselves: what’s the alternative?

It’s called a closed system photobioreactor. Wikipedia defines this as: “a bioreactor that utilizes a light source to cultivate phototrophic microorganisms. These organisms use photosynthesis to generate biomass from light and carbon dioxide and include plants,mosses, macroalgae, microalgae, cyanobacteria and purple bacteria.

What does that mean? Well, it means that we make a sort of ‘mini-ocean’. A sealed unit that we put purified ocean water into, along with phytoplankton. The top of the unit is glass, letting sunlight reach the plankton inside, allowing it to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy.

Are there other ways to grow phytoplankton outside of the oceans? Yes, absolutely. But they’re not great for making plankton for humans to eat.

The other way that phytoplankton is often grown is in an open pond environment. This is just what it sounds like—a pond that is exposed to the elements. That includes air pollution, acid rain, animal waste and garbage. These ponds are usually fenced off, but they are still vulnerable to contamination.


A lot of people don’t know that phytoplankton and other kinds of algae are often grown for biofuel, as well as for supplements like Oceans Alive.

If you’re growing phytoplankton for biofuel, open ponds are a faster and cheaper method for producing phytoplankton. As a writer for Biomass Magazine has noted: “Generally, open ponds have been associated with contamination issues, excessive space requirements and limited location possibilities due to climate. At the same time, closed bioreactors have mainly been considered too expensive.” Obviously, contamination is never good, but it matters less when you’re making fuel than it does when you’re making food.

The main downside of a photobioreactor is cost. Building the unit, maintaining it, controlling the temperature, water quality and testing the phytoplankton are all expensive steps.

DIY Algae?

There is a growing trend of do-it-yourself videos, blog how-tos, books and kits that encourage people to grow algae (often the blue-green variety or spirulina) in outdoor pools, ponds or in small aquariums. Just Google ‘DIY algae’ and you’ll see what we mean.

Labs spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fine-tuning bioreactors to ensure the purity of what goes in and offer protection from contaminants. After that, the phytoplankton goes through extensive testing to ensure that it is of optimal quality and that it’s free of toxins. Plus, in a bioreactor, specific strains can be isolated and then refined through genetic selection (choosing the best from each batch and then starting the next batch with them, making each generation better than the last).

Growing your own algae for fertilizer is one thing, but you have to be careful if you want to grow it to use as a superfood. Bacteria can get in from the air, from the container, the water or from the algae that you use as a starter culture. This could make you very sick if you decided to drink the phytoplankton.

Why risk exposing yourself to bacteria, toxins and other pollutants in subpar products? We all know that an organic apple is safer than one that is grown with the use of pesticides. Choosing a clean phytoplankton supplement is like buying organic produce, except that avoiding ocean and pond contaminants (including pesticides) may be even more important.

We make it easy for you to get the best; we’ve already done the research and we source our pure marine phytoplankton for Oceans Alive from the premier facility in the world.