Pearls are organic and the only sustainable gem on earth. But what impact does the development and growing popularity of pearl farming have on the environment? If you were worried about it, don’t be. Research funded by the Tiffany & Co. Foundation has shown that if pearl farming is managed well, it not only has a very low impact on the environment, but it can help the environment to stay healthy.
To produce a quality pearl, the oyster should be happy. And an oyster is only happy in clean, unpolluted water where there is a lot of oxygen and minerals. One example is the tragic tale of how the Hoover Dam historically killed off pearl oysters in Mexico because of not enough fresh water pouring into the ocean. Now that experts know this, however, they ensure that the marine and freshwater environments have the best possible water quality.
While oysters and mussels need a certain level of cleanliness in their water to survive, they can also contribute to purifying the water and increasing the water quality. Each pearl mussel can filter about 104 liters of water every 24 hours, and the impurities, such as algae, are used or ‘eaten’ by the mussel. That makes each mussel a tiny purification system on its own!
Oysters also need to eat. They live on plankton, as well as by-products from fish and coral reefs. If the ecosystem supporting the fish and coral reefs aren’t healthy, the oysters won’t be either. As a result, some pearl farms have restricted or banned fishing in their immediate environment and take great care to maintain coral reefs.
What’s more is that freshwater pearls can be grown together with fish species such as carp, which are edible. This creates additional income for pearl farmers and lowers the need for fishing, while the oysters and fish sustain each other.
Pearl farming creates jobs. Whether on pearl farms or in sister industries, such as tourism and the different uses for the by-products of pearl farming (meat and shells). This means the communities surrounding pearl farms need to fish less, further reducing the danger of overfishing.
Studies have shown that when pearl farmers prioritize healthy farming practices, there are more fish species in the area. It could be because the fish eat organisms encrusted on the shells, but also because small fish can hide between the shells in the oyster cages.
Mussel and oyster meat is delicious, a good source of protein and their shells absorbs carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorus from their surroundings. This is in stark contrast to farm animals, which produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. What’s more, mussels and oysters don’t need antibiotics to stay healthy while they grow.
Read more about pearls and the environment here.