SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 15, August 2016 - Page 112

Designed and produced in 2000 in Paris, France. White Mother of Pearl from Thailand. Exhibited in the Boutique of Musée des Art Decoratifs in the Louvre (Paris).

Benefits of Sustainable Pearl Farming

The production of a cultured pearl is a complex process that requires a thriving marine ecosystem, important knowledge and skill, and many years of patience. In Australia, pearl farmers can collect wild adult oysters under a strict quota system. Otherwise, young oysters can either be collected as spat from the wild during natural spawning seasons or be artificially spawned in hatcheries. The oyster can be seeded two to three years after its birth by implantation of a nucleus which is gradually covered with nacre, or mother-of-pearl, by the oyster. This period of growth of a cultured pearl takes a further one to two years, depending on a range of factors: the time from the birth of the oyster to the harvest of the pearl is about three to four years.

Not all oysters will survive, and not all oysters will produce a beautiful pearl. Estimates suggest that 95 percent of a pearl farm’s income comes from 2 percent of its pearls. The skills of the seeding technician play one important role. Environmental deterioration or sudden ecological changes will also affect the oyster and hamper its potential for producing a high-quality pearl, as pearl oysters are remarkably sensitive organisms. Consequently, financial and ecological sustainability are intimately and inextricably linked. The more pristine an environment, the healthier the oysters are and the higher the likelihood of harvesting valuable, high-quality pearls. Ultimately, for a pearl farmer, it pays to maintain a thriving ecosystem.