Environmentally (and socially) responsible pearl farming?

After all, even small changes in pH should affect oysters. I don't know if anybody systematically monitors pH changes in oceans. Pearl farmers could contribute a net of outstations that do that.

I'm not sure about pearl oysters, but ostrea are not bound by tenths of points. Locally, Ph readings are all over the place, effected by rain, sun, tides and currents.
And Dave
You are most definitely doing something important, too! I am so glad the 3 of you report here!!!!

I agree Caitlin. I know all three of us get a lot out of it. I really look forward to seeing Dave's developments and Douglas' too. The input from more low profile pearl loving scientists on this forum is really great too, Ramona. ;)
...I have also been wondering whether pearl farmers could collaborate with climate scientists. After all, even small changes in pH should affect oysters. I don't know if anybody systematically monitors pH changes in oceans. Pearl farmers could contribute a net of outstations that do that.


...I'm in talks with scientists at the moment about an in depth study of pearl farming and it's effect on lagoon ecology. I can't talk about it much just yet but if it is approved we'll be getting some very broad exposure through a major publication. As for monitoring pH changes across the world, very good idea.

May I ask if this thread is still active and if any feedback could be made available (positive or negative).
I do not think that (in my humble opinion that is) pH is much of a direct concern but rather the resultant of a wider concept.
I would be interested to see if any conclusion has been drawn on the environmental effect of the pearl farm, such as matter in suspension, nitrate level, bicarbonate level, dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide (that are eventually affected by the seawater temperature).

Thanks in advance.
I have seen pop up some articles about ocean acidification and I try to find them again. Nature has recently introduced a new journal called "Nature Climate Change". I have not had the time to read it consistently, but they do have some manuscripts on coral reefs in their latest issue.
Thanks again for the links, at least it confirms to some extend that temperature may indeed be the silent killer. Although SST may increase (MODIS source) we might as well observe lower readings at the location of most farms (except those located near continental shelf that is) especially those located in areas prone to cyclone and typhoons.
Your links are greatly appreciated.
Whether it's milk, coffee, logging or pearls, I am convinced that quality will eventually rise to the top. I have to say though that the silence is deafening beyond what you, Douglas and I have to say. Pearl on my brothers!

Pearl On Oh Nacreous Brotherhood!!!
May I ask if this thread is still active and if any feedback could be made available (positive or negative).
I do not think that (in my humble opinion that is) pH is much of a direct concern but rather the resultant of a wider concept.
I would be interested to see if any conclusion has been drawn on the environmental effect of the pearl farm, such as matter in suspension, nitrate level, bicarbonate level, dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide (that are eventually affected by the seawater temperature).

Thanks in advance.

pH is indeed a concern since a high pH will not allow calcium carbonate to be "available" to many marine species, including phytoplanckton (the basis of the food pyramid in the ocean)...some experiments have revealed that microalgae will have a limited growth and will not be able to produce enough food (photosynthetize). Ultimately this would mean that marine ecosystems will collapse.
Still, I believe that heat will affect us more than pH will. This article deals with the effects of pH on algae.
pH is indeed a concern since a high pH will not allow calcium carbonate to be "available" to many marine species, including phytoplanckton (the basis of the food pyramid in the ocean)...some experiments have revealed that microalgae will have a limited growth and will not be able to produce enough food (photosynthetize). Ultimately this would mean that marine ecosystems will collapse.
Still, I believe that heat will affect us more than pH will. This article deals with the effects of pH on algae.

Hi, I do agree, allow me to rephrase, the variation of temperature will affect the pH, the pH will not affect the temperature. And yes the ocean's acidification is caused by the colder water to act as a sink for the atmospheric carbon dioxide. That is why I said "I do not think that (in my humble opinion that is) pH is much of a direct concern but rather the resultant of a wider concept." Jacobson mentioned that the pH went from 8.25 to a low 8.14 from the mid 18th to present time, and he is suggesting it to reach 7.85 within the next 90 years, thus effecting that the carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere is the wider problem, not a resultant.
As you said, the heat will affect us more than the pH, or it will just contribute to the on going acidification of the oceans.
I think that we are of one mind here...I also believe it will be the "heat" (rising water temperature) that will affect us in a more effective manner and in less time. pH is indeed a problem, but when a hurricane slams into your face you are a bit more worried about heat (the energy that feeds the hurricane) than if water is becoming a bit more acidic.
Right now I am anxiously watching the news about hurricane "Miriam" and I'm strating to "feel the heat": only two years ago we had hurricane "Juliette" slamming in almost the same spot on Baja and we ended up with a devastated Guaymas.

By the time pH becomes a serious concern, there might no longer be a need to be concerned.
Yes, I do share your opinion on this scenario.

Are you often touched by hurricanes?
Please excuse my lack of geographical knowledge but you are in the Gulf of California right? Any subsequent problem with upwelling (due to weather)?

Oh I wanted to post this to add some information for the readers, it is regarding the acidification of the ocean, you definitely know that already but I thought it would be a good addition to the above mentioned subject.

As CO2 levels increase in the atmosphere, so too do they in the sea. Although direct effects of moderately elevated CO2 in sea water may be of little consequence, indirect effects may be profound. For example, lowered pH and calcium carbonate saturation states may influence both deposition and dissolution rates of mineralized skeletons in many marine organisms. The relative impact of elevated CO2 on deposition and dissolution rates are not known for many large-bodied organisms. We therefore tested the effects of increased CO2 levels—those forecast to occur in roughly 100 and 200 years—on both shell deposition rate and shell dissolution rate in a rocky intertidal snail, Nucella lamellosa. Shell weight gain per day in live snails decreased linearly with increasing CO2 levels. However, this trend was paralleled by shell weight loss per day in empty shells, suggesting that these declines in shell weight gain observed in live snails were due to increased dissolution of existing shell material, rather than reduced production of new shell material. Ocean acidification may therefore have a greater effect on shell dissolution than on shell deposition, at least in temperate marine molluscs.
Written by Sarah Nienhuis, A. Richard Palmer and Christopher D. G. Harley -Bamfield Marine Sciences Center.
I have for some time now investigated pearl farming that can make some impact on its environment, both socially and environmentally. There are pearl farms in Tahiti, Fiji, and the Philippines (mentioned here on this board) that come to my mind. That covers black pearls and golden and perhaps white south sea pearls. How about Chinese freshwater pearls? I read on Grace Pearl's website that they strive to protect the environment. Does anybody here now whether this is indeed true? Are there any movement in China towards those goals? Pictures I have seen from pearl farms in China often suggest that pearls are grown under conditions that suggest a less than pristine environment. However, I have never been there. Any recommendations?

We cannot speak for other regions or types of pearl farming as we do not know for certain. However, one thing that we do know quite well about is our operation here in the Philippines. Our pearl farms are located in pristine locations far away from major cities and civilisation. The marine concession on which the pearl farm is located, is considered a preservation zone, and even in some cases a "no take zone." This means that the area is designated a breeding ground to allow the marine species to proliferate and spread.

As a diver, it is very clear to see the difference when you dive on the reefs within the pearl farm as compared to the areas around. Even in some of the most remote areas of the Philippines, which is considered to be at the center of global marine biodiversity, it is apparent that the reefs have in some way already been damaged either by trolling, dynamite, or worse, cyanide fishing. In our experience it can take over 15 years for a reef to even start recovering. It is not uncommon when diving in certain areas to hear dynamite exploding under the water. This is terribly saddening, and destructive to our marine eco-system. As pearl farmers it is in our best interest to preserve our environment as we believe the beauty of the pearls partially comes from the beauty of the place. The Pinctada maxima is an extremely sensitive organism, any slight change in temperature, food, salinity, pH is indirectly recorded in its nacre layers and growth process as "stress marks." When this oyster then carries a pearl, these changes are then recorded onto the pearl as well. That is why we say that the pearl is like a time capsule, containing the story of the time it spent inside the oyster, the care the oyster was given if it came into contact with humans, and any changes in the environment that affected the oyster. In fact we believe that when we do get a perfect pearl, although very rare, it is nature's way of saying thank you for taking care of her in some way.

In order to take care of the environment around us at the pearl farm we must work closely with local communities. We cannot do anything without their support as the seas links everybody and everything. Thanks to the golden south sea pearl, we are able to build schools in very remote areas, and aside from your usual subjects, the teachers also teach the children how to take care of the environment and what would be the consequences if we don't. Through the years we have found that it is very difficult to tell an old fisherman to stop fishing using destructive ways because he will have no more food in a few years, but if we tell him that his children will not be able to live off the sea as he has, then he starts to listen. We have centers that teach former illegal fishermen alternative ways to earn a living, whether it is through seaweed farming, organic vegetable farming, bee farming, cashew processing, handicraft making, sea cucumber rearing, etc. If we are able to show them an alternative it is easier to get them to listen. All this happens because of the presence of the pearl farm. Without the pearl farm, these activities in these areas would not exist. All of this happens under the stewardship of a foundation started by the pearl farm which is called "Save Palawan Seas Foundation" the website is www.projectseventhousand.org.

If a day comes where we are no longer able to produce beautiful pearls in these pristine environments, this will be a very scary time for all mankind. As it will mean that we have failed nature in taking care of her as she has nurtured us. For now it seems, the pearl farms in the Philippines can still make a little difference at least in our areas. We hope that this sustainable model can be shared by other industries around the world. We only have one ocean, one earth and we are interlinked through her.
That is what every company in the world should do jacques. In my company i like to say ' kita budidayakan ikan dan manusia'. Which roughly translate to ' we culture both fish and men'. It is not the only way to do things but it should definitely be THE WAY. Talking about reef developement and protection that is very true about most pearl farms i been into. Diving around pearl farms lead to moth watering adventures.
Environmental impacts of pearl farming.
O’Connor WA (In Press) Chapter 14, Environmental impacts of pearl farming. In JS Lucas and P Southgate (eds.). Elsevier.
Pearl culture is now more than a century old and its practices are constantly evolving. In many instances, the pearl industry is acutely aware of the importance environment in which they operate and have taken steps to protect that environment. Accordingly pearl culture in Australia is acknowledged to be among the most environmentally friendly forms of aquaculture with demonstrable positive environmental impacts. This however is not universal across the global pearl industry and has not diverted criticism of particular practices. This chapter looks at those practices to discuss the potential impacts that have or may occur. It investigates how pearl culture activities, if poorly managed, can significantly impinge upon biological systems, physically alter environments, be a source of chemical pollution or have aesthetic or social impacts.

This book may hold some interesting information.
One more link regarding Environmental issues and pearl farming.
This one comes from the website of Seabourn Pearls Freeport Maine, curiously enough it contain pictures from Paspaley (Australia) and Jewelmer (Philippines).

Pearls and the Environment

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Palawan Pearl Farm. Photo: Jewelmer

Among gems the pearl stands alone in its kindly relationship to the environment. Pearls are produced inside living creatures and created in concert with the natural processes of the living earth. The growing popularity of pearls is due in part to their appeal amongst environmentally aware consumers committed to sustainable lifestyles.
Saltwater oysters are surprisingly fragile creatures that thrive in the most pristine growing conditions. Pearl farms are best suited for remote marine habitats far from populated areas. Most saltwater pearl farms are way off the grid and are, by necessity, highly sustainable operations that utilize the sun and wind for power and conserve resources carefully. Farmers understand the health of their crop is inextricably linked to the health of the environment. Pearl farmers are often leaders in their local environmental organizations. They promote and abide by strict environmental standards to insure the marine ecosystems upon which their livelihood depends remain clean and rich with plankton.
For their part, oysters are filter feeders and clean their host waters 24/7. The networks of floating cages that comprise a farm provide vital shelter and spawning areas for countless fish and sea life. Oyster stocks are carefully monitored and nurtured to comply with wild oyster quotas and to insure an adequate supply for cultivation. Indeed, if not for pearl farming most pearl producing oysters would be endangered or extinct.
In addition to pearls, pearl farms also harvest shells and meat. The shells are sold to craft industries to be used for mother-of-pearl inlays. Oysters that cannot be re-nucleated are cleaned and the meat is sold both fresh and canned as highly prized food products. Secondary products include dried meat for fertilizer and crushed shells for landscaping products. Nothing goes to waste.
The environmental impact of freshwater pearl production is more spotty but improving. The potential for profits coupled with the absence of government regulation, China’s vast network of lakes and rivers and unmatched labor resources resulted in a proliferation of pearl farms throughout China.
Many lakes and rivers are under stress from overproduction but the biggest environmental threat from freshwater pearling is the unregulated disposal of the byproducts used in processing. Too often pearls at harvest are treated beyond basic washing. They might be chemically treated to lighten color, dyed to create new colors, or shined using waxes or polishing compounds. These processes, and the handling of the waste associated with them, are not regulated.

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Photo: Paspaley Pearls

But things are improving. With support from buyers, education programs have emerged to encourage farmers to make adjustments to their wastewater practices. Foreign brokers are making direct investments in Chinese pearl farms to insure the availability of quality product that meets the environmental standards of enlightened consumers. Seabourn Pearls only buys natural color, minimally processed pearls from farms that use sustainable practices. The Chinese are keen business people. Ultimately, when consumers stop buying dyed, color treated and over-processed pearls the Chinese will stop making them. Nature benefits when we buy natural products.
Processing problems aside, pearling in China provides important environmental benefits. Pearl farms are an abundant source of wetlands habitat for fish and migrating birds. Hundreds of thousands of recycled soda bottles have found new use as buoys for mussel cages. Agricultural byproducts from pig, chicken and soybean farms are recycled to grow plankton which in turn feeds the mussels. At harvest, after the pearls are separated, the meat is frozen for fish food or recycled into fertilizer and the shells are sold to craft factories.

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Coral and Cages. Photo: Jewelmer

In the end, saltwater oysters dictate that pearl farmers engage in environmental stewardship or suffer the economic consequences of poor quality harvests. Freshwater pearling requires greater vigilance on the parts of farmers and consumers but still holds the promise of net environmental benefits. But compared to the blasting, open pit mining and heavy metals used to extract diamonds, colored gemstones and precious metals from earth, pearls are the gentlest gem. And there is no such thing as a “blood pearl.”
No matter what color or style you choose, rest assured your Seabourn Pearls are green.
Come see for yourself. Contact Seabourn Pearls today and schedule a private appointment to see our wondrous collection of gentle gems. Or browse our online gallery of beautiful pearls. If we can answer any pearl questions you may have call us directly at anytime. We love to share our knowledge and passion for pearls. As seen in Seabourn Pearls Freeport, Maine.
One more article that will illustrate the effort made to infuse the concept of Pearl farm being pro Environment:

Certifying Pearl Farming
Pearling in Japan
IEDS Fellow Laurent Cartier is leading this project in partnership with researchers, pearl farmers and jewelers in Japan, French Polynesia and Micronesia. Pearl farming represents an inherent relationship between commercial pearl oyster cultivation, fragile marine environments, coastal livelihoods and the global jewelery trade. The quality of pearl production is a direct measure of environmental management efforts. The economic viability and long-term future of pearl farming ventures is directly dependent on a healthy marine environment; there is a clear economic incentive for long-term marine conservation in ecosystems that are very vulnerable to environmental degradation.The pearl industry has also contributed significantly to improved coastal livelihoods and regional economic development in recent decades.
The industry is currently undergoing huge transformations due to globally induced economic (e.g. lower demand and overproduction) and environmental changes (e.g. pollution), and must revert to a high-quality production of pearls in order to prosper sustainably in future. The market for pearls has grown tremendously in the last 20 years–both in terms of supply and demand. However, both small and large producers are having problems with market access that are associated with supply chain fragmentation in recent years.
This research study is concerned with understanding the obstacles and opportunities of pearl cultivators in a social, environmental and economic context in a number of Pacific case study contexts. Furthermore, this study strives to collaborate with engaged stakeholders in exploring the potential of designing certification mechanisms that would promote marine pearls that are farmed in a responsible manner. It is clear that industry and consumers could play a much larger role in actively supporting marine conservation and coastal livelihoods if certified ?responsibly produced? pearls were available on the market.
Research context
Pearls and surrounding services have become a vital source of income and significantly contributed to economic development in an important number of remote coastal communities in French Polynesia and other Pacific regions. If managed properly, pearls can be a considerable catalyser not only for improved livelihoods, but also for environmental conservation in biodiversity hotspot regions.
Though the global pearl industry presents a considerably fragmented supply chain, the luxury consumer is fundamentally linked to the livelihoods of producers and the environment in which the pearls are grown. There is nascent demand for certified ethical and fair trade produced raw materials in the jewelery industry and there have, as of yet, been no demonstrable efforts to investigate this in a substantial manner in the pearl sector. The proposed research will seek to examine the feasibility of certification mechanisms for locally owned pearl farming ventures as a means of ensuring sustainable trading relationships and other standards. If such frameworks could be designed, and possibly introduced at a later stage, it would mean that conscious and engaged consumers could develop socio-economic and environmental sustainability by consuming these luxury products. In regions that are facing serious environmental challenges such as overfishing and coral reef degradation, pearl cultivation could be explicitly associated to more broad scale marine conservation efforts.
The possibility to merge proactive consumer engagement with responsible forms of pearl cultivation presents great potential. A potential certification mechanism could serve as a motor for sustainable growth for struggling small-scale operators in the pearl oyster cultivation industry, by reinvigorating their activities. It could provide much needed assistance in fostering good management structures and the sharing of scientific expertise to ensure that consistently high qualities of pearls are produced. Such schemes would serve as a basis for the emergence of new local pearl farming development projects (e.g. in Micronesia) and could play a significant role in financing and supporting the protection of vulnerable marine environments.
The project would be collaborative with the local pearl farming community, local and international scientists and a partner jewellery company that could assess market acceptance of produced pearls. The objective will be to demonstrate that such a framework can be designed effectively, that certification is feasible and that there is a marketing potential for responsibly produced pearls.
Research questions
• Can marine conservation be invigorated if it is associated to pearl cultivation?
• What factors contribute to successful pearl farming enterprises producing high quality pearls?
• What resource management strategies contribute to a sustainable pearl farming sector?
• How feasible would different forms of certification be for saltwater pearls?
• What techniques can be used to resolve traceability concerns in the pearl supply chain?
• What place could responsibly produced pearls take up in the current pearl industry? Would supply chain governance allow small-scale pearl farms to find a place for their production on the world pearl market?
Expected results, outcomes and impacts
• A comprehensive study on and of sustainable resource management strategies in the marine pearl industry.
• Collaborative research on different case studies that will help to improve understanding in what key factors contribute to successful management of pearl farms.
• A policy-oriented research study clearly focused on offering recommendations relating to the potential of fair trade-like certification of saltwater pearls.
• Potentially establish a set of criteria and standards for certification of responsibly produced pearls in collaboration with local stakeholders and other research institutions.
• The impact of the research will be its possible contribution to the formation of alternative livelihoods and marine conservation in marginalized coastal communities by investigating certification as a model of promoting responsible pearl farming and meeting the demands of increasingly conscious consumers of luxury jewelery.
I find this an interesting article. It is more or less what I wish would happen. There are markets, e.g. Switzerland, where fair trade is something that potential buyers will consider. Swiss are very sensitive to how products are generated. Switzerland incidently is also one of the countries where the economy is still steaming ahead and people are willing to spend lots of money. In the US, however, I wonder whether sustainable pearl cultivation would be a sufficient argument to convince people to pay the higher prices that such production would demand. I think there is a market, but it would be a small one. In times of a sluggish economy, most buyers would probably first look at price/quality regardless of how the pearls were cultured. Certification may help, but I think the better way would be to create the products that people want to buy and that are only available through you. I think the Chinese have done a marvelous job at that, all the time reinventing pearl colors, sizes, and shapes. That works in the lower and higher end market. A different example is J. Hunter pearls in Fiji as they developed pearl colors that are totally unique, which allows them to sell their pearls selectively. If you are the only one or one of few to sell such a product, you can define the price (at least for a while). Fair trade would then merely be the cream on top. Catering to the luxury market has some drawbacks I believe. People with lots of money generally want to acquire something unique, so targeting this market specifically would probably require the availability of long-term funding or very good design and marketing, which again are expensive. In the absence of a clearly unique product, communities may have to offer their products in conjunction with a lifestyle experience, perhaps in the form of a (luxury) resort in a sustainable environment and try to bring the buyers to the pearls. This would cut out international competition and keep all income local. I personally would also go the way of scientific research to push the boundaries, but then, I am a scientist and that's what I am comfortable with. A science approach can be done even on a small budget, but it works only with a longer term time horizon and lots of determination.
Is fair trade substantial in pearl trade?
Is there a demand from all pearl buyers?
Undeniably a 21st century approach, fair trade may indeed add to the quintessence of the pearl.
This said, luxury product are also tainted with inequity and it may prove difficult to ally such opposite concept, difficult but not impossible, although I suspect not all producers are willing to go this direction.
But this is not my trade, and being as well more inclined toward the research and analysis aspect of this business, one can only wonder.
Is fair trade substantial in pearl trade?

The term "fair trade" is often confused with "ethical practices". On the face of it, many consumers expect fair trade to mean that farmers or those in their employ receive wages compatible with their cost of living. This is an ethical issue. A fair trade policy sets minimum prices much like marketing boards do with grain, milk, eggs etc. Unfortunately, this provides incentive to produce inferior products which will fetch guaranteed prices. Although pearls are a luxury item, the average consumer is not necessarily willing to pay more for (potentially) a lesser product. Meanwhile, the price of premium products go through the roof.

Fair trade should only apply to producers at a global level when compared to each other. Tahiti has very strict laws with respect to pearl production, quality control and exports, yet China does not. While there does exist ethical producers and retailers in China, by no stretch of the imagination can China be deemed as a fair trade country because important regulations do not exist across the board. I don't mean to suggest that most producers use the term disingenously, but the ability to adopt the moniker without accountability leaves the policy as dubious in general. Like the term "organic", a fair trade policy must be established by governments, trade commissions etc. and be subjected to internationally enforceable regulations by bona fide tribunals.

Even the term "ethical" can be abused in marketing ploys, but at the very least the onus comes down to the individual using it to justify their reasoning to consumers.

Personally, I don't feel the need to attach either term to my operation, afterall Canada has minimum wage polices, workplace safety standards and stringent environmental laws. It stands on it's own and goes without saying.
I was reading all the latest replies...it has been a while since I've dived into the Pearl-Guide forum (sorry! :( ) and there are many great contributions, and amongst these I saw something that made my throat close and my eyes water: "No Take Zones" where Jewelmer's farms are located. We have been fighting for years and years to gain this status in Mexico...but everything just gets lost in bureaucracy.

This year...finally!!! Took us over 10 years to promote a Law to Protect our Native Pearl Oysters species, we believe it is an advanced law that can efficiently protect our few remaining pearl beds. But what happened??? It is not a LAW, just a "National Policy" which people should follow...hopefully. :(

In the end...the fight is a moral one and it must be kept, but our lives are so short and the problems seem too big. God willing we'll have the strength to keep "speaking for" the environment: the oysters and all associated fauna & flora.

Last year we received the help of an outside group (NGO) to prove our farm's positive environmental impact, but we have yet to receive the report. Even without one you can just see the truth when it is in front of you: the area that surrounds the farm lacks many of the species (all commercial ones) that thrive in ours: pearl oysters (wild-ones), sea cucumbers (mostly fished out for the Chinese market), Pen Shells, starfishes, crabs, snails and myriads of fishes. And this has been done without a "No Take Zone" so I can only imagine what we could do if this was possible in Mexico: our farm's wildlife would later recolonize the deserted areas and help feed the local community in the future.

Dream on Lads & Lassies...if we Dream we can Beat the Nightmares!!! Dream on...