A Visit to a Black Pearl Farm

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The Grafter

Black Pearl farming started in Bora Bora in 1961.    Because of the success in Bora Bora, pearl farms were established on the atolls of Manihi, Marutea and Mangareva. 

Several times a year, the black-lipped pearl oyster, which lives in the coral in the South Pacific, produces spawn which is fertilized in the water.  These baby oysters are called spat and they float freely in the lagoon before attaching themselves to coral or dying out.  The pearl farmer collects the spats on artifical collectors in the lagoon.   They are reared on underwater lines for more than three years and when they reach maturity they are taken out of the lagoon for a short period of time, are carefully held open with a plastic stick similar to a clothespin, and turned over to the grafter for grafting. Click on The Grafter above to see the intricate process of grafting.   

A black pearl farm in the lagoon.

The only way to get to a black pearl farm is to arrive by boat.

The Patamure Pearl Farm that we visited.

A spat collector.

Oysters that have been pulled out of the lagoon and are waiting to have their black pearls taken out and to be grafted again.

The net that will hold the grafted oysters for 18 months.  Fifteen oysters will live in this net and will hang in the lagoon. 

The oysters waiting to be grafted.  These oysters have been in the lagoon for eighteen months.   They each have a black pearl inside which will be taken out by Arii and then he will  graft back into the oyster a Mississippi mussel in hopes that another black pearl will grow.   Click on The Grafter above to see the rest of the process.   

The owner of Patamure pearl farm, Pat, and his helper inserting plastic sticks into the oyster to get them ready for grafting.  Pat's son, Arii has been trained to do the intricate job of grafting.

The farm.  Notice the strings hanging off the boards.  The strings are attached to the nets that are holding the oysters.  The oysters live off the nutrients in the lagoon.