Category: Sustainability

Top Ten Most Wanted, Continued (#6 and Counting)

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

Many of the predators we’ve talked about in this series so far have been known to effect oyster farms and wild oysters much more severely than they do oysters in the protective facilities of pearl farms. This weeks offender is one that even pearl farmers can’t escape, and struggle to protect their stock from.

Barnacles Most Wanted Poster

6) Epibionts
Any organism that lives on the surface of any other living organism, including but not limited to barnacles, is an epibiont. Barnacles, while they appear harmless (and are harmless to many organisms) can damage oyster populations. Excessive barnacle growth on the shell of an oyster can prohibit that oyster from growing and developing properly. If the barnacles grow where the oyster’s shell opens, it can prevent the oyster from opening it’s shell to feed and breathe. Barnacle growth can also cause permanent damage to the shell, causing it to grow lopsided. This is especially detrimental in the pearling business, because a healthy oyster that grows at a consistent rate is key in producing pearls of the best quality.

Since barnacles can attach to anything, including ships, piers and rocks, we wish they would be more considerate about attaching to oysters.  Therefore, Number Six (#6) on our Ten Most Wanted List goes to the Epibionts.

Stay tuned for more unbelievable oyster threats, leading up to the Number One (#1) enemy of our beloved oysters.

Top Ten Most Wanted, Continued (#7 and Counting)

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

We find this week’s oyster-offender particularly creepy. These unusual, tiny animals are occasionally found inside the oysters we use as food, however, some people consider these little crabs a delicacy. To each his own!

Pea Crab Most Wanted Poster

7) Pea Crabs and Other Oyster Crabs
If you’ve ever had oysters on the half-shell or shucked your own oysters, you may have seen a tiny, squishy crustacean, smaller than a pea, sitting inside the shell of the oyster. These are called “Pea Crabs,” and they crawl into the unsuspecting oyster’s shell and live inside, usually in its gill area. Contrary to the belief of some, this is not a symbiotic relationship. These creepy little crabs are oyster parasites and live off the food the oyster collects. Not only do Pea Crabs steal the oyster’s food, but they can do permanent damage to the oyster by causing gill erosion.

In addition to Pea Crabs, there are also a variety of other crabs that are natural enemies of the oyster. Species such as Mud Crabs and Blue Crabs can use their claws to crack open and eat the oysters.  For this reason, and also because it gives us the heebie jeebies to think about a tiny crab crawling around in our gills, we give the Pea Crab and Other Oyster Crabs a shared Number Seven (#7) on our Most Wanted List.

Stay tuned for more unbelievable oyster threats, leading up to the Number One (#1) enemy of our beloved oysters.

Top Ten Most Wanted, Continued (#8 and Counting)

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

Another week, another Most Wanted! This week’s offender does not usually harm the oysters directly, but causes damage to the oysters’ environment. These crustaceans are huge threats to oyster farmers, particularly those in the food industry.

Shrimp Most Wanted Poster

 

8) Ghost Shrimp and Mud Shrimp
These varieties of burrowing shrimp are harmful to the ecosystems in which healthy oysters thrive. They create tunnel systems in the sand or mud, disturbing the sediment so consistently that it creates an unhealthy environment.  These shrimp actually decrease the level of water in the shallow oyster beds by displacing the water with stirred up sediment. This lifts and exposes oysters closer to the shore to drying wind over time, killing the exposed oysters.

Ghost and Mud Shrimp can actually smother oysters with the amount of sediment that they stir up and also cause a decrease in organic matter in the soil.  We don’t hold it against them that they are “ghostly” and “muddy,” but because of their lack of respect for oysters, we give them a Number Eight (#8) on our Ten Most Wanted List.

Stay tuned for more unbelievable oyster threats, leading up to the Number One (#1) enemy of our beloved oysters.

Top Ten Most Wanted, Continued (#9 and Counting)

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

If you read our last blog, you know we have comprised a Most Wanted list for Oyster Offenders. We’re advocates of the life and safety of these little pearl-forming, ocean-cleaning parts of our aquatic ecosystems, and we are here to educate! Follow this series for neat facts about predators that live in our oceans, and more.

Cownose Ray Most Wanted Poster

9) Cownose Rays
Similar to the oyster toadfish, the cownose ray has special teeth for crushing mollusks. While feeding, they crush segments of oyster beds three feet wide and up to a foot deep! They also stir up the sediment around the oyster beds while they swim, which can bury the oysters. As oyster beds provide homes to a whole host of aquatic organisms, these rays set off a chain reaction of damages.  We’re all for the food chain, but we don’t want these around our special pearl oysters, so we give the Cownose Ray a Number Nine (#9) on the Ten Most Wanted List.

Stay tuned for more unbelievable oyster threats, leading up to the Number One (#1) enemy of our beloved oysters.  You won’t believe what some oysters go through to deliver their beautiful pearls!

Pearls International’s Top 10 Most Wanted List (#10 and Counting Down!)

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

Oyster Toadfish Most Wanted Poster

We at Pearls International were wondering why it is so difficult to raise oysters – don’t you just put them in clean water and sit around in the sun for a couple years until the pearls are formed?  What is all the fuss about oyster disease and predators?  So, we decided to do a series on oyster threats!  What we found was amazing!

Pearls International will release facts about our Top Ten Oyster Threats, one per week, beginning with the least dangerous and leading up to the Number One (#1) most deadly threat to oysters and our beautiful pearls!  Wait till you see some of these critters!

In case you haven’t noticed, we are pretty crazy about pearls around here. That means we also have a lot of respect for the amazing little animals that make them. This includes several species of oyster, clams, and other mollusks. Of course, not all mollusks can produce a nacreous pearl like you see in the jewelry we sell, but we think they’re all equally important.

Oysters are a “keystone” species, meaning they are very important to the habitats they live in. Oyster beds provide shelter for a variety of marine life such as fry fish seeking shelter, and discarded shells serve as a substrate to facilitate the growth of sea sponges, whip corals, and sea fans. These organisms provide shelter to an even larger variety of marine life.

Oysters are also a food source for many animals, including humans.

They are very beneficial to the environment because of the way they feed: Oysters are filter-feeders. They pull food in through their gills along with gallons of water. Oyster beds essentially act as massive filtration systems, helping to keep the ecosystems they live in clean.

Without further ado, we present…Pearls International’s Top 10 Most Wanted List!

 

Number 10 (#10):   Oyster Toadfish
Meet our first offender, the Oyster Toadfish, above. These ugly looking mugs are known for hiding around oyster beds, staying out of sight until they make their attack. They have rows of sharp teeth designed to be able to crack into the hard shells of mollusks and crustaceans.  Despite their common name, “Oyster Toadfish,” they seem to prefer to prey on crabs, rather than oysters, so we rank them Number 10 on our list.

Stay tuned for more unbelievable oyster threats, leading up to the Number One (#1) enemy of our beloved oysters.  You won’t believe what some oysters go through to deliver their beautiful pearls!

 

Branding Pearls: Is This the First Truly Designer Gem?

Toward the end of 2013, scientists, pearl farmers, and consumers alike started searching for a way to learn more about their pearls and where each one is sourced. If you saw our last blog on this subject, you already know that scientists have discovered how to extract trace amounts of DNA from pearls, in order to determine the species of mollusk that produced it.

On the same track, another way to trace your pearls has arisen – branding. It is becoming possible for pearl farmers to brand their pearls, either with a small silver logo on the nucleus, which can only be viewed under an x-ray, or with an RFID chip. RFID, or radio-frequency identification, is similar to the process in which you would have your pet microchipped so that he or she could be traced back to you if they were to get lost. Each pearl chipped in this way would have a unique identifier linking it to the farm from which it originated.

Branded Pearls From Kamoka Pearl Farm that show their logo when x-rayed.
Branded pearls From Kamoka Pearl Farm show their logo when x-rayed.

Many designer-brand loving consumers may adore this idea, while many others may be asking “why?” The main goal for farmers like Josh Humbert of Kamoka Pearls is to be able to reach out to consumers specifically interested in producing eco-friendly jewelry.

Aside from the prestige of being able to say, with proof, that your pearls were sourced from Perlas Del Mar De Cortez, Kamoka Pearls, or any other high-end marine pearl farm, the main upside to this is emerging process is the ability to learn about the region in which your pearl was formed, and the methods around its creation. It is more satisfying to many consumers to say “this is my strand of black Tahitian pearls. The pearls were produced by Kamoka Pearls, which uses methods of sustainability and environmental farming techniques not seen by many other pearl farms” than it is to simply say “These are my black Tahitian pearls”.

With this emerging technology, consumers have a deeper connection to their pearls because they are able  to see photos of the exact farm where the pearls were produced, without ever having to travel all the way to Tahiti, the Gulf of California, or Japan. With this new step in tech, a pearl retailer will have the ability to educate the consumer even further on the purchase they are about to make. The retailer’s ability to extend this knowledge to the customer can also help to build trust and better relationships with clients. In addition to this, a gemologist or appraiser can give the customer a more accurate representation of value by providing this information. For example, if you were to buy a set of branded pearls, you would still have electronic information about their provenance via x-ray or microchip after they have been handed from generation to generation and their future owners had long forgotten where they came from.

The downsides, however, are numerous (at least for the time being). Both the logo method and the RFID chip are pricey, raising production costs by 2-3 dollars a pearl, something that many pearl farms will not be able to afford if the idea does not catch on with the majority of consumers. While many customers would be interested in hearing this information, there is no guarantee they will also be willing to pay the increased retail price for a branded pearl. Another thing to consider is that this process is nearly impossible for freshwater pearls, which make up the majority of pearls on the market today. Since most freshwater pearls are nucleated with mantle tissue only, rather than a shell bead as with saltwater pearls, there is hard nucleus to attach a brand or RFID chip to. Freshwater pearls already sell for a more commercially affordable rate to the general public than do saltwater pearls. If the majority of marine pearls were to become branded, this price gap would increase. Would this damage the market by causing more consumers to choose the less expensive freshwater pearls, or would sales of saltwater pearls increase as more pearl farm education is spread through branding?

Only time will tell.

source – http://www.jewellerynetasia.com/en-us/editorial/list/-C42-Editorial-Article/WEBONID/466/TYPE/Blog

Pearls on Sand

Pearls are Fun, but We Take Oysters VERY SERIOUSLY!!

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

Pearls International is the best place around if you want to play with pearls, get educated on pearls, find out about YOUR pearls, or just have fun!  Everyone knows that pearls are our favorite pastime and that we have a huge selection of creative pearl pieces that you can admire, touch or try on!

But when it comes to oysters, those amazing little animals who actually make the pearls, Pearls International gets deadly serious!  Because we live and breathe pearls, we know the importance of making sure that our friends, the oysters, stay healthy and happy and keep on making their little gems.  Now, it takes an oyster at least one year to come up with a pearl of any size at all, and two years if you want a nice big one.  Some really large pearls take as long as six years to form!  Actually, a healthy oyster can have a life-span of 8-12 years, but pearls that are grown in polluted water are usually pitted with rough spots and the delicate oysters don’t last long there, either.

Oysters need clean water in order to thrive and make lovely pearls.  As it turns out, oysters are quite fragile and they can’t survive in pollution. When oysters are forced to live in polluted water, they become frail.  Their shells weaken and predators come along, invade those soft shells, and destroy the hard-working mollusks!

Pearls are amazing.  The shells they come from are more amazing still, and the animals who live in the shells and make those gorgeous pearls are the most amazing of all.  Not diamonds, not pearls, but OYSTERS are a girl’s best friend!  Nature at its finest never made a more beautiful finished product.  So we need to keep those vulnerable oysters in clean water.

Here’s how Pearls International is helping:

[dropcap2]1.[/dropcap2]Sustainable Practices
Whether it’s making sure to recycle that soda can or turning off the lights when we leave a room, it’s important to reduce our environmental footprint as much as possible. Around here, we are careful not to put harmful chemicals into the water supply, and we re-use as many materials as possible to help reduce waste products and energy use from mining and transport.

[dropcap2]2.[/dropcap2]Ethical Sourcing
We’re a small company, but we still handle millions of pearls every year. Here at Pearls International, we are very aware of how even a small company like ours could have an effect on the environment if we were to use practices that could negatively affect the environment. That’s why we are constantly working with our vendors to seek out better ways to protect the oysters we love through every step of the supply chain.

[dropcap2]3.[/dropcap2]Responsible Stewardship
Perhaps the most important thing we do here at Pearls International is educate! We are always telling people about the amazing things you can find in the ocean, and why they’re worth saving. We think that if everybody did the same, our oceans would be a whole lot healthier. Toward that end, we are always learning, and always spreading the word about our H20-loving friends.

Here’s how you can help:

There are many things you can do to keep the oceans healthy, from cleaning up after yourself at the beach to using fewer plastic products (remember the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Yuck!).

These are things you can do every day, but if you really want to make a change? Get involved! Contact your local policy-makers to let them know you care about our oceans, and join an organization that is working to protect our most valuable global resource.

With your help, our oceans will be just as beautiful for our children’s children.

Angry Ocean

Winds, Waves, and Wonders: Is There Room for Pearls in a Changing World?

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

While the pearl as a gem is one of the oldest jewels known to man, the pearl industry in its currently recognizable form came about only in the last century with the advent of improved pearl culturing methods that made it possible to produce these lovely trinkets on a scale fit for the masses.

While the sudden glut of inexpensive cultured pearls sent the centuries-old natural pearl market into a tailspin, a new buyer appeared. The solidly middle-class families of post-WWII America, newly solvent and looking to make their mark on the world of fashion by keeping up with the Joneses, were at once fascinated by the exotic provenance and mystery of the pearls they saw adorning the necks of Hollywood’s darlings, and charmed by the clever marketing schemes of sellers determined to convince them of the value of gems previously considered counterfeits. Not only did this glamorous gem catch the eye of Americans, the pearl industry began to boom all over the world. Growing economies made for perfect consumers, and today, pearls make up a significant portion of the jewelry market worldwide. In fact, Australia is the leading country in pearl production. In Western Australia alone, the total allowable annual catch of oysters per licensed pearl production company is 572,000 oysters, equaling over $200 million dollars’ worth of pearls!

50s Style

Post-War, business was booming, but not without repercussions to ancient oyster beds, which were rapidly depleted by the sudden demand. Oyster species that ordinarily took several years to mature were now being forced to produce pearls faster and more frequently, leading oyster farmers to breed stock with shells so weak they were flexible to the touch. Due to pollution, over farming, industrialization, and other factors from man made activities, water quality in many marine oyster environments was slipping. These animals are very sensitive, and productivity dropped drastically. Many pearl farmers in coastal China were forced to take their business to cleaner waters in other countries. From this turmoil, the Chinese freshwater pearl business began to grow and become more prominent.

Initially, cultured pearls from China were created from the irritant being implanted into the animal at one year of age. Eventually, in order to increase quality, they made a few changes, including switching the species of mollusk used and waiting until they were two and a half, rather than one year old. These freshwater mussels are raised in former rice paddies that have been flooded to create lakes for pearl farming. They enrich these lakes with manure to increase algae growth, on which the mussels feed. They also add filter-feeding carp to the environment to filter out phytoplankton and prevent algal blooms. This increases the quality of the food source for the mussels. The aim is to raise healthy animals so that they can continue to produce quality gems. However, sometimes the artificially created ecosystem does not function as well as was intended. A few years ago, mussel farming was banned in one province of China due to concerns from questionable levels of manure content in the paddies. While the mussels do benefit from the steps taken to build their habitat, it must be monitored and the water must be kept clean. Just as the lakes the mussels are raised in are affected by outside sources such as pollution, construction, and waste, the surrounding ecosystems are effected by the pearl farms. One pearl farmer was quoted as saying “We must keep a Confucian balance with nature.”

Pearl Farm in Zhuji

 

Chinese pearl farmers may use as many as 10 irritants per mollusk, where many other countries (particularly when producing saltwater pearls) only use 1-2 irritants. In fact, by 2015, it is predicted that China will surpass Australia as the leader in pearl production worldwide. Because they can turn out so many pearls, they sell them at a much lower cost. This has raised fears among other countries that the pearl industry as a whole may become endangered. Chinese workers in pearl farms make a low wage of $15 – $23 a day. Looking to reduce costs even further, some Chinese companies are developing pearl-sorting machines rather than having them chosen and placed with similar pearls by hand. These machines take pictures of the pearl from every angle as it drops, then catches the gem and evaluates it based on size, luster and imperfections. It automatically assigns the pearl to a bin in which it will be kept with similar pearls. As these machines can run day and night and work quickly, they will be able to replace around 15 human workers per machine. This hurts the job market for individuals working in pearl production, and could have drastic effects on the Chinese economy.

Sorting Pearls in China

You could imagine that with such a constantly growing, worldwide industry, there are a lot of people on our planet who are affected by pearl production. Let’s look at French Polynesia, a small group of islands that makes a good bit of its livelihood from pearl farming. Much of their revenue comes from international exports, and 55% of their exports in 2008 were black Tahitian pearls. An estimated 4,000 persons in French Polynesia live from pearl farming, with much of this industry being made up of family-owned businesses.

This booming industry has led to a decrease in emigration from the Gambier and Tuamotu archipelagos to Tahiti, which is what many young people had to do in order to find work previously. Consequently, both the populations of these small islands and the quality of living have increased sufficiently to allow many people to remain living on the islands of their birth. Social and health benefits have arisen from this as well, as many inhabitants of the region enjoy the kind of outdoor physical work provided from pearl farming, as it provides a way of life close to the traditional activities of the population.

On the flip side, not all family-owned pearl farming operations are successful. Many families who try to get into the business without knowledge of entrepreneurship go bankrupt when they are unable to pay back their small business loans. Socially, this creates inequalities among the population, as on some islands the pearl business is booming and on some it is nearly impossible to produce pearls. Some families who are successfully producing pearls are producing low quality jewels and marketing them poorly, leading to many big producers pushing for more regulations on pearl farming in the islands. Also, many local families of the smaller islands face competition from non-locals who have taken over pearl farming on the main island of Tahiti. In addition to local competition, the value of the Tahitian pearl market is being challenged by pearl production companies worldwide, particularly from Chinese freshwater pearls. As Chinese pearls are more cheaply produced, they sell for a much, much lower wholesale cost than saltwater Tahitian pearls. The majority of the buying market would rather buy freshwater pearls at a third of the cost of a similar Tahitian strand.

Tahitian Pearling

Although the competition may be tough, the pearl industry on the French Polynesian islands is still a major point of production on a global scale. In the words of Laurent Cartier, an environmental science Ph.D. who did some work on a research paper on sustainability of pearls, “In the long run, only those producers who work in ecologically responsible ways will continue to produce top-quality pearls.” Cartier believes that the methods used by Chinese pearl farmers can over crowd the mollusks, and ultimately thinks that saltwater pearl farming tends to use more environmentally conscious methods. Kamoka Pearl, one French Polynesian family-owned pearl farm, tells National Geographic about their efforts to remain environmentally conscious in an article published this year. The oysters are kept loosely packed into nets within the lagoon that they are harvested from, in order to be watched over and kept track of by pearl farmers.

A problem that oyster farmers face by keeping them this way is that they then begin to grow barnacles and other organisms on their shells. In order to keep the oyster growing at a normal and healthy rate, and therefore producing high quality pearls, these growths must be cleaned. There are several ways to effectively clean an oyster. The most common method is bringing the nets out of the water and spraying them with a high pressure hose. This is inexpensive and effective, but creates a large amount of organic matter in the water. This decreases the water quality, because it becomes to much for the fish and other marine animals to break down efficiently. Kamoka Pearl, however, has found an environmentally conscious way around this problem. Rather than hosing the oysters off, they move them to shallow areas of the lagoon where fish life is more abundant and varied. After a few days, the fish clean the oysters naturally. Although this isn’t as quick or cheap in means of labor costs, the company prefers to spend the extra money to do what they feel is best for the environment.

Whether or not pearl farming is beneficial or detrimental to the environment depends on the methods used to farm the mollusks and environmental factors from other industries. Research is still underway. New knowledge, methods of farming, and innovations in technology are being discovered day-to-day. The question of whether there is room for pearls in a changing world can safely be assumed as a yes, as long as we leave enough room for the ocean to continue its natural processes. We have seen since the invention of cultured pearls all the way to today that with changes in society, come changes in the pearl industry, and these changes can have varied and lasting effects. It appears that the pearl industry has set itself up to be as timeless as the gems themselves are.

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Oysters covered in oil

Deepwater Horizon Spill of 2010 the Latest Threat to Oysters?

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

Among other grisly repercussions of the great oil spill of 2010, (which came to be known as the “Deepwater Horizon Spill”), hundreds of fragile oyster beds that thrived in the area have been severely disrupted.  Why is this a problem?  Simply put, oysters are a filter animal and are a natural and necessary part of the filtering that is required for the environments of our oceans, lakes and rivers.  The talented animals can clean water like a pool vacuum cleans a pool.  Filtering organic materials is their business – but understandably, the Deepwater Horizon Spill has proved too much for many of the oysters along the Gulf.

The damages to the Gulf oyster beds have threatened not only the oysters themselves, but myriad of businesses based on the oyster trade.  The oldest oyster shucking operation in the United States, P&J Oyster Company of New Orleans was extremely impaired by the spill.  It reported that the company still has not resumed shucking its own oysters after the spill, and the overall business is still only at 35 percent of original production figures.

That same year, Governor Bobby Jindall ordered freshwater to be pumped into the Mississippi river in order to try to flush out the oil that had seeped in. Though the freshwater pumping may have helped on some levels, the over-abundance of fresh water also adversely affected the oyster beds, because a subtle mixture of brackish water, both saltwater and fresh, is needed for the fragile oysters to thrive.

Dr. Tom Soniat,  for over ten years a full-time Biology professor at Nicholls University and mussel specialist, stated that “the mortality rate [in the area] was up to 98 percent in some oyster beds.”  At a 2 percent survival rate, this kind of depletion could quickly cause oysters to join the endangered species list.  In addition, many other polluted areas which once supported thriving oyster beds are no longer producing at all.

Oily OystersEven though man-made problems can have a devastating effect on our oyster beds, man-made solutions may also help to mitigate the damages.  Through thoughtful reef management, the oyster beds can improve and begin to thrive.  One of the sustainable practices that helps to support the oyster growth is to plant “cultch.”

Cultch is nothing more than a mass of shells, pebbles and gravel.  It is spread along on the bottom of the oyster habitat and provides a floor of sorts to which an oyster may attach itself with its tiny weed-like foot.   It is a starting place for oysters to group together for protection and support and begin to form a colony.

Emily Bryce of The New York Times found that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife has an oyster cultch project in six large oyster habitats across Louisiana. She reports that “by simultaneously building hatcheries where oyster larvae are cultivated, the state  hopes to seed the new reefs with generations of oysters that will build new fortresses.”

There is a silver lining to the Deepwater Horizon Spill – the increased environmental awareness in the Gulf area and knowledge of the obstacles the region faces has skyrocketed since the Spill, and has sent hundreds of agencies to the rescue, learning as they go, how to return to and keep the waters in their original state. That is a big win for our friends, the oysters.

Check out this blog over at HuffPo about other animals that have yet to recover from the spill.

See: Source: Bryce, Emily. A Multitude of Oysters? Looks Can Be Deceiving. The New York Times. 25 October, 2012.