Pearls are organic gems obtained from mollusks deep under the sea. The gorgeous gem has been a favorite among gem lovers over the ages due to its timeless appeal, luster, elegance and rarity. There are different types of pearls found around the globe like freshwater, Tahitian, Akoya and South sea.

South Sea cultured pearl is known for its natural luster, nacre thickness, quality, rarity, size and value, making it the ‘Queen’ of pearls. South Sea pearl is produced from Pinctada maxima oyster shells. This variety of pearl represents the rarest cultured pearls available in the market today. Also, as the largest of cultured pearls, South Sea pearls occupy a place of esteem among both collectors and connoisseurs.

Aerial photo of Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays.

What is Aquaculture?

Aquaculture is the process of cultivating aquatic organisms in a controlled environment. It is practiced for various purposes like food, habitat restoration, saving an endangered species or enhancing the production of marine minerals.

Pearl Farming Process

Pearl farming is producing cultured pearls through pearl farms. Australia has been involved in commercial pearl farming since the mid-1900s. The farming involves a three-step process of spat production, nucleating and maintaining of pearl oysters, and harvesting and general farming procedures.

STEP 1

The first step involves collecting oysters from the wild and keeping them in the controlled temperatures at the hatchery. Once spawning is induced, these take around 24-hours to develop into larva. After approximately three weeks, oysters are settled from the water column and attached to a substrate. When the spats attain desired size, they are transferred to the hatchery and placed in mesh bags kept four-meters below low tide level. These bags are regularly cleaned to ensure proper water flow and suitable surroundings.

STEP 2

The second step is seeding and maintaining the pearl oyster. The oyster shells are kept on the farm for about two years until they reach optimum size. These are conditioned for several weeks with cooler waters to reduce their metabolism before nucleation. This process increases the success rate of nucleation. After this, the mantle tissue graft is extracted from one mollusk and inserted with a bead. The bead is kept in close contact with mantle tissue graft for producing pearls. From this bead and tissue a new pearl will be cultured!

FINAL RESULT

Following the process, the pearls are harvested, and additional elements are removed with specialized techniques. The pearls are kept on cloth for drying under sunlight.

Single white pearl in mother-of-pearl Seashell Pinctada maxima oyster.

Important Locations for Pearl Farming in Australia

The cultured pearl industry of Australia primarily depends on adult Pinctada maxima oyster shells collected from the wild and used for producing pearls. The important locations of South Sea cultured pearl farming stretch from Cobourg Peninsula North-East of Darwin to Dampier in Western Australia, Kuri Bay and Cygnet Bay. Many giant Pinctada maxima are found along the North-Western Kimberley Coast and Eighty Mile Beach, South of Broome. These remote areas are still primarily untouched by human influence, making them the perfect locations for cultured pearl farming.

Traditional and Modern Farming

In the traditional process of pearl farming, oysters were collected from the seabed and harvested in farms. Nowadays, with advanced techniques and a modern process, pearl farmers collect high quality oyster eggs and sperms from the farm itself. These are further fertilized to create oyster larvae. For a few weeks, larvae are left freely in water to develop into baby oysters. These are then moved to nurseries, where they are kept for about 1-2 years and then nucleated.

Sustainable Efforts to Conserve the Environment

To protect the environment and natural resources from any harm, the Australian government and pearl farmers work in partnership. One of the largest producers of South Sea cultured pearls, Australia has developed effective regulations and policies to conserve the country’s resources. The pearl industry of Australia is known for producing the best quality South Sea pearls, which has been possible due to their respect towards nature and sustainable practices. The Australian Pearl Industry has been certified for environment and sustainability management under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

The quota system regulated by the Australian government allows a standard number of wild stock pearl oysters that can be obtained from a particular location. Divers hand collect wild oysters to be cultured further. The process is environmentally friendly and sustainable, causing no harm to the ocean and seabed. In many other parts of the world, the population of wild oyster is dramatically depleting due to commercial fishing and overuse of techniques.

The pearl farmers, Australian government and the entire industry understands the importance of conservation and ecofriendly techniques for obtaining high-quality cultured pearls. A good quality oyster can survive only in an ideal natural habitat. These pearl oysters feed on other microorganisms in the sea, resulting in natural cleaning of water.

Bali silver bracelet featuring golden South Sea cultured pearl.

Role of Aquaculture in Improving the Economy

Pearl farming has played an important role in uplifting the economies of remote areas and providing opportunities to marine communities. Over the years, various pearl projects have helped in improving living conditions and developing the livelihood of rural communities. Many people are employed directly through pearl farming, or indirectly by supporting the farming community. As the land around the best farming locations are owned by local people or communities, private and government organizations lease them, directly helping the locals.

Learn more about South Sea cultured pearls through the Shop LC Education Center!