Pearl industry development in the Western Pacific - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Pearl industry development in the Western Pacific

This project focuses on the strong potential for marine pearl culture industry development across the region. It addresses regional aquaculture priorities to achieve industry growth and impacts in coastal communities. Research aims to provide a sustainable basis for continued cultured pearl industry development in Fiji and Tonga and determine the feasibility of half-pearl culture in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

  • develop more effective hatchery culture methods for the black-lip pearl oyster (Pinctada margaritifera) and winged-pearl oyster (Pteria penguin)
  • enhance sustainable development of the cultured pearl industries in Fiji and Tonga
  • undertake baseline studies for the development of pearl culture in PNG
Pacific communities work to realise pearl opportunities

Cultured pearls are the Pacific region’s most valuable and highest-priority aquaculture commodity. Pearl farming is compatible with traditional lifestyles and provides opportunities for income generation. Individuals may catch spat (juvenile oysters) to sell to pearl farms, or grow pearl oysters to produce mother-of-pearl, half pearls or round pearls. They may be directly employed by pearl farms or associated ventures, or be involved in pearl shell - pearl handicraft and jewellery production.

Pearl culture is not harmful to the environment. Pearls are small, valuable, lightweight and non-perishable, making them an ideal export commodity. However, potential pearl culture economic and livelihood opportunities are underdeveloped in the Western Pacific. The industry contributes less than 1.5% of the estimated regional value of the industry (US $170 million per annum).

This project builds on prior research in partner countries and addresses major objectives identified by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) for the future development of pearl culture in the region. These are: improved economic returns; maximised community participation and flow-on benefits; and long-term sustainable production. Activities vary based on individual industries, oyster species and products. Research is being carried out in Fiji, Tonga and PNG.

Fiji's round pearl exports reach new high

The USC Tropical Aquaculture team's research into pearl oysters covers various aspects of pearl industries in Fiji, Tonga and PNG. Part of their work is with exisiting pearl farms to make them more profitable by improving production efficiency and pearl quality for export.

One area of this work has improved the value of round pearls exported from Fiji by 30 percent - a multi-million dollar contribution to the local economy. Such and increase has far-reaching livelihood benefits for Fiji.