We usually think of human – environment interaction negatively, but let’s imagine a more positive, healthy relationship. A family of Tahitian pearl farmers catalyzed a now global movement to break this stigma of human-environment interactions and started continuing their trade sustainably. Didn’t know pearl farming was even a thing? Me either. So here is the gist:
- Pearl oysters of a specific breed are collected and then “seeded.” When an oyster is mature enough, a farmer will pry open its shell and insert a small object to serve as the nucleus of a new pearl. A pearl is made by an oyster secreting nacre (also known as mother of pearl) around the intruding particle, similar to how our body creates scabs to protect and cover our wounds.
- In an aquaculture complimentary to the mollusk, pearl farmers typically suspend baskets or lines of oysters about 6 meters below the water level. (see image above)
- The farmers wait years for the little oysters to do their thing, sometimes swapping out pearls from oysters to oyster in an attempt to expedite the process. Sometimes small bits of “mantle” from other oysters are inserted into gestating oysters in order to stimulate nacre production.
So what is this one family doing that’s so great? Besides breeding new oysters for all the ones they sacrifice, the Kamoka Pearls has figured out a way to make the most environmentally hazardous aspect of their trade—oyster cleaning—not only sustainable, but nourishing for the surrounding ecosystems. Pearl farmers will typically clean oysters regularly in order to promote growth; the dirtier they get, the less healthy they are. Most farmers simply pull up oyster baskets and power-wash them, allowing the wash to flow back into the ecosystem. This unfortunately leads to sporadic and deadly changes to the body of water’s inhabitants, and even attempts at washing ashore has led to similar backlashes.
What are usually cleaned off the oysters are small organisms such as barnacles and sponges, which also happen to be perfect food for other nearby aquatic creatures. Josh Humbert found, by accident, that if he simply left the oysters alone in shallow water, the local fish would slowly but surely consume all of the oyster’s squatters. What could be even better than that? Professor Kent E. Carpenter of Old Dominion University and his research team found a clear increase in abundance of local reef fish, hinting that Humbert’s pearl farming might be literally giving life to his lagoon.
Komoka Pearls is just one cog in the movement towards more sustainable human-marine interactions, and fishing practices in general. For example: Sustainable Pearls, a research organization devoted to promoting conscious pearl farming in order to promote a positive environmental and socio-economic economy. Their goal: for all pearl farmers to be required to go about their practice sustainably, without harming the environment.