Is Papakolea the only green beach


There seems to be an urban legend that the only beach in the world having green sand is near the southern tip of Big Island (Hawaii). An alternative version is that it is one out of two. The other being in Guam (Talofofo Beach).

I have to first make it clear that this article is about the green beach sands that are composed of mineral olivine. Lots of other minerals can form green sand beaches also but we exclude them for now.

Papakolea olivine sand

Olivine sand collected near the southern tip of Hawaii. It is from a tiny cove on the coastal trail, not from the beach itself where the grains tend to be duller green. The width of the view is 10 mm.

I do not know for sure about Guam. I have a very nice sand from the Talofofo Beach but it is composed almost exclusively of magnetite. But there is no doubt that olivine sand could be there. Guam is volcanic island located on top of the Mariana Island Arc right next to the famous Mariana Trench that reaches almost 11 kilometers in depth and is the deepest part of the world’s oceans.

The famous green sand beach in Hawaii is called Papakolea or Pu’u Mahana Beach. As much as I know it really has few competitors in terms of purity and freshness of the olivine sand. However, it is definitely not correct to say that it is the only one. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.

Diamond Head sand

Sand sample from Diamond Head Beach in Oahu. White grains are biogenic fragments (corals and forams). The sand is not as bright as are the sample from Papakolea but it is still clearly greenish. The width of the view is 11 mm.

There is no need to go very far from the Big Island. Diamond Head is a tuff cone in Oahu that constantly feeds the sand beach right next to it with fresh olivine. The sand there is not as bright but it is definitely composed mostly of olivine and it is green.

It is interesting to take a look at the Pu’u Mahana and Diamond Head volcanoes. There are some striking similarities. They are both located right next to the beach. They both contain lots of olivine. They are both composed of easily erodable pyroclastic sediments. They are both high and steep which speeds up the erosion.

Diamond Head and  Puu Mahana

Pu'u Mahana on the left and Diamond Head on the right. Images taken from Wikimedia Commons: jonny-mt (Pu'u Mahana) and Brian Snelson (Diamond Head).

Why is this needed for the green sand beach to form? Because olivine is extremely unstable mineral in the atmospheric conditions. The transport route needs to be short and erosion fast to ensure that most of the olivine makes it to the beach and there is a constant supply of fresh material.

All right, we have Diamond Head Beach in addition to Pu’u Mahana but it is still only two and both of them in Hawaii. It may come as a surprise to many but olivine is not rare in sand. I would even say that it is an essential component of sand in many oceanic islands or volcanically active regions. Canary Islands, Iceland, Galapagos Islands, and Cape Verde are just a few names where olivine is a common constituent of many beach sands.

Olivine sand from Sivuqaq

Sand sample containing lots of olivine from Ivgaq, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. The width of the view is 15 mm.

I especially love a sand sample from St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. The climate there is not quite comparable to the Caribbean. That’s perhaps the most important reason why this island is not very popular among tourists. The local Yupik people are quite protective about their island as well but I am lucky to know two of them. They sent me a very nice sample from the northern coast of Sivuqaq (St. Lawrence Island in Central Siberian Yupik). This sand sample is not as green as are the samples from Hawaii because it contains lots of lithic material but olivine definitely dominates among the single minerals and gives greenish hue to the sand.


9 comments to Is Papakolea the only green beach

  • Ole Tjugen

    There is a green olivine sand beach in a more unlikely place: Hornindalsvatnet, in western Norway, has a small green beach. In this case the source of the olivine is not a volcano, but an ancient peridotite set in a highly metamorphic area.

    Sorry, I have no pictures. The beach can only be reached by boat, and it’s hard to find unless you know exactly where it is, too.

  • Thanks for mentioning it. It is good to know but I am not surprised. I believe there are fair amount of such beaches in remote places around the world. If you ever happen to go there again, I’d be very interested to see photos or maybe even sand :)

  • Lauren

    Yesterday my friend, our children, and I visited the green sand beach on the Big Island. We followed that up by driving to the black sand beach at the end of the (astoundingly long and in a couple of places very treacherous) dirt Road to the Sea. To our surprise the black sand beach was half green sand overlaid with a beautiful scallop shell design of black sand. Both beaches are at the end of roads that really require four wheel drives with a short wheel base and very high clearance, not the normal rental 4×4.

  • Jane

    Siim,
    This post is fascinating! I especially love the close-up photos of the sand…so cool…
    Jane

  • Aaron

    Nice post. I’d just like to emphasize that the “Road to Sea” green and black sand beach that Lauren mentioned is not the same one as originally pointed out above. There are several different places that actually have a higher concentration of olivine on Hawai’i island than the famous spot (Papakolea) near South Point. You are definitely correct in stating that olivine is a common constituent of volcanic sand. Countless locations (Norway, Iceland, Samoa, Guam, Galapagos islands, etc) could be identified if someone cared to compile a list.. at any rate, they are all still very aesthetically pleasing and special beaches.

  • Susan Stone

    Stumbled onto your site after visiting Kurt Meyer’s site. Very, very impressive! I’m a longtime member of International Sand Collectors Society and have 4,500+ samples in my collection altho I no longer actively trade due to high shipping costs from Fiji where I live. I live along beautiful Sekawa Beach on Savusavu Bay on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu (Kurt has a macro-photo of our beach sand on his site.) Our stretch of cocoa colored sand has quite a bit of olivine and magnetite which makes for colorful green & black streaks as the tide goes out.

  • Daniél Jacobs

    Dear sand collectors. I’m Daniél Jacobs. I live in wes-Europe. Iam an beach sand collecter. Are you interested in contacting and trading sand with me.

    greeting Daniél Jacobs

  • Daniél Jacobs

    Who wants to send me green beach sand for my sand collecting. Greeting Daniél Jacobs

  • Elena

    I will, if I ever go!

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