Developing pearl-industry-based livelihoods in the Western Pacific - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Developing pearl-industry-based livelihoods in the Western Pacific

This project aims to strengthen collaborative research supporting pearl-industry-based livelihood opportunities in Fiji, Tonga and PNG, and help boost round-pearl exports.

  • consolidation and expansion of the community-based spat collection program in Fiji
  • half-pearl (mabé) production in Fiji and Tonga
  • expansion of pearl and mother of pearl handicraft production by community and women’s groups in Fiji, Tonga and PNG
  • evaluation of the economic and socio-economic impacts of pearl-based livelihood development in partner communities
Diverse employment and industry opportunities to grow

Pearl culture was introduced to atolls throughout French Polynesia during the 1980s and 1990s to address sociological problems, such as depopulation and unemployment. As a result, the industry is now worth around $180 million per annum and is second only to tourism as an export earner.

Importantly, pearl culture provides income generation opportunities at the community level. Individuals may be directly involved in pearl farming, pearl oyster supply to pearl farms, or associated handicraft industries that offer income generation opportunities.

The economic and community benefits brought by pearl culture in Polynesia have not yet been realised in the Western Pacific, although research is helping to turn this around. Recent technical advances in Fiji and Tonga have resulted in improved oyster supply to pearl farmers and provided greater opportunities. Local communities and small-scale farmers are also more active industry participants. And larger farming operations, as well as round-pearl exports, are expanding.

Livelihood opportunities arising from these advances include: farming round pearls; juvenile (‘spat’) collection; growing spat; mabè production; and producing retail-quality handicrafts. Despite these initial successes, pearl culture and associated activities are still at an early-development stage in partner countries.