The global jewellery industry is currently witnessing an unprecedented increase sustainable jewellery practices. With a growing awareness of the large carbon footprint of the global jewellery and gem industry, the conscious consumer is always looking for jewellery that meets global sustainability standards. Of all the gems in the world, salt-water cultured pearls are perhaps the most sustainably produced.
This then brings us to the question: How does one define sustainability? According to Sustainable Pearls, sustainability is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Pearl farming fully meets the three pivotal requirements for sustainability- environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and social sustainability.
Environmental sustainability is the cornerstone of salt-water pearl farming. According to Dr. Cavalieri, President of CIBJO, The World Jewellery Federation, “When a consumer buys an item of pearl jewellery, they should feel that they have invested in our planet’s long-term survival, rather than having taken advantage of it.”
First, pearl farmers know that the most beautiful pearls come from healthy oysters. In turn, the health of the oysters depends upon the quality of sea water in which they are grown, As a result, pearl farmers make every effort to keep the waters in and around the farms pristine. These marine conservation efforts may include a restriction on overfishing and efforts to minimise all forms of plastic pollution. This has a direct impact on the health of the oysters but an indirect and more significant effect on marine conservation and the harmonious ecosystem surrounding the farm, most especially on the well being of coral reefs. Corals are critically endangered organisms that are being negatively impacted by rising ocean temperatures and ocean pollution. However, coral reefs are the foundations of a delicate marine ecosystem which in turn helps provide nutrients for the growth of healthy and happy oysters. In a sense, the story comes full circle. Marine conservation efforts by pearl farmers lead to the growth and protection of well populated coral reefs and the many different fish species that call it their home. These in turn provide essential nutrients for oysters and help pearl farms produce beautiful pearls.
Beautiful Golden South Sea Pearls, Jewelmer Pearl Farm
Second, pearl oysters filter water as they feed, with the result that the waters around a pearl farm are of exceptionally good quality. A single adult pearl oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day and in doing so, remove a number of harmful pollutants from water including excess nitrogen. Excess nitrogen in sea water leads to the growth of algae which lowers the oxygen levels in water, adversely affecting all marine life. Pearl oysters safely remove nitrogen from sea water during the filtration process and add it to their shell or tissues. This nitrogen helps oysters grow. Thus, pearl farms filter and purify sea water in their environs, which in turn leads to healthier marine life and increased biodiversity.
Kevin Canning, CEO of Pearls of Joy, having visited numerous pearl farms all over the world and seen many of these sustainable practices first hand, very aptly observed “Pearl farmers are the unsung heroes in the fight to save our oceans, they are the canary in the coal mine. Yet almost nobody knows of their work and how in many cases are single-handedly protecting and restoring local ecosystems. There's good reason to wear pearls proudly.”
Pearl farms are a sustainable source of income and food for pearl farmers. Saltwater pearls are a much-coveted, luxury gem and top quality pearls command high prices in the jewellery market. Pearl farms, at their very core are business organizations. When they use their resources efficiently, they are able to remain economically and financially viable. For this to happen, pearl farms adopt different economically sustainable practices that aim at reducing wastage and making the best use of every part of the pearl oyster.
Kevin Canning, CEO of Pearls of Joy, on a visit to the Jewelmer Pearl Farm
Salt water pearl oysters especially Pinctada Margaritifera (Tahitian and Fiji pearls) and Pinctada Maxima (South Sea pearls) can be used for additional grafts such that pearl farmers do not discard the oysters after the first pearl harvest. Instead, they nucleate them again for a second (and sometimes even a third) harvest. As a result, one oyster can produce not one but multiple pearls over its lifetime.
Mother-of-pearl from oyster shells is sold to the watch and jewellery industry as gem material, to the fashion industry for button production, to the pharmaceutical industry for its calcium carbonate content and to the furniture industry for mother-of-pearl inlay work. Some pearl farms have now started using their mother-of-pearl to produce bead nuclei for pearl cultivation. This practice has consistently produced high quality pearls.
Additionally, the adductor muscle of the pearl oyster is not just a culinary delicacy that is exported by pearl farms all over the world, it is a nutritious source of food for the farm workers. Recently, several Akoya pearl farms in Japan started using the inner tissues of the pearl oyster (which were usually discarded as a waste by-product of pearl farming) to produce compost. This compost is then used as fertilizer on pearl farms where fruits and vegetables can be grown. All these practices help make pearl farms economically sustainable.
Pearl farms create many varied employment opportunities for local communities such that many lucrative alternatives to fishing become available. Not only does this help combat over fishing, it also leads to economic development and uplift of communities. New job opportunities include work on the pearl farms as well as work in the tourism sector (the presence of pearl farms increases business tourism to those communities).
Pearl farm Workers, Jewelmer Pearl Farm
Sustainability could very well be the soundbite of pearl farming. Sustainably managed pearls farms not only produce beautiful pearls, they also help with marine conservation, waste reduction and local community development.
Featured Image: Pearl farm Worker, Jewelmer Pearl Farm