Pearl farming is one of the best aquaculture businesses as it is simple and does not require artificial feeds unlike other aquaculture species. It is a lucrative business and you just need to have sound technical knowledge and a comparatively higher initial investment.
The pearl industries are increasing rapidly because the demand for cultured pearls is increasing. Also, new technologies and more widespread access to technologies has led to cultured Pearl cultivation. These ‘cultured pearls’ are generally larger and of a more consistent size and colour than natural pearls.
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Pearl farming is an eco-friendly cultivation technique because the oysters purify the water. It is practised in many countries commercially and the best thing about it is its profits and income and recently many people have turned to pearl farming and made a fortune.
It provides thousands of livelihoods to the peoples from farming to marketing and it will continue to grow in the future as well because as long as the jewellery industry is alive it will provide many jobs to more and more people around the world.
Pearls have a great demand in local as well as export markets and it can be carried out along with other fish farming or aquaculture businesses and and you can expect 50 to 60% profits under ideal aquaculture management practises and you can even earn 100% profit with more dedication and hard work.
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Read this article and you will get to know the whole process of cultivation of Pearls.
What is a Pearl?
Pearls are a natural gem which is produced by a Mollusk or by raising and producing them artificially. The entire process of generating pearls is called Pearl culture.
Pearls are one of the most beautiful gems available to humans and their aesthetic beauty has made it so popular around the world and is sold for a very good price in the market. The natural pearls are found in sea shells whereas the cultured pearls are cultivated from mussels through surgery that initiates the pearl forming process.
Types / Varieties of Pearl
There are mainly 3 types of pearls. They are:
- Natural pearls – This type of pearls are found naturally in the sea shells and their shape depends on the original shape of the foreign body.
- Artificial pearls – These are made artificially and are then coated with a synthetic material. It is a solid body that comes in pearl shape and is actually not a pearl.
- Freshwater Cultured pearls – These pearls are cultured in fresh water such as ponds, rivers, etc and any desired shape can be obtained.
The different variety of pearls under these three categories are:
- Natural pearls
- Freshwater cultured pearls
- Keshi pearls
- Saltwater cultured pearls
- Mabe pearls
- Japanese cultured pearls
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These pearls are available in 8 different shapes, that are:
- Circled drop
- Double bouldered
However, perfectly rounded and shinear pearls have a high demand and are more valuable. Usually, the Seawater Cultured Pearl, Natural Pearl and Freshwater Cultured Pearl are majorly cultivated by the farmers.
Chemical composition of Pearls
The Pearls contain Aragonite calcium carbonate by 82 to 85%, Organic matrix of 10 to 13% and about 2 to 5% water.
Major Pearl producing Nations
Japan is considered as the major producer of Pearls on a global level. However, there are other countries too which produce Pearls globally. Here is a list of all those countries.
- South Seas
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Development of a Pearl
When the mantle tissue is injured by a parasite, a fish, or any attack, or any event that leads to the damaging of the external rim of the shell of a mollusk shell bivalve or gastropod, it leads to the formation of Pearls. When the mantle tissue is attacked, it secretes nacre into the pearls sac which is a cyst that is formed during the healing process.
This nacre is nothing but the calcium carbonate and fibrous protein called conchiolin. The nacre builds up in layers of minute Aragonite tablets filling the growing Pearl sac and eventually forms a Pearl.
Chemically speaking, we can say that Pearls are nothing but the deposit of Calcium carbonate within the soft tissue of the shelled oysters, but this process is different in freshwater Pearl culture because in this practice, the mussels are nucleated through a surgery process.
Pearl Farming Benefits
Pearl farming is a relatively simple form of aquaculture as it doesn’t demand any type of artificial feeds, or complicated farm structures but you need to manage the farm properly to be successful. It is a specific farming business where the final product is lightweight and is non-perishable.
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Pearl farming is an attractive business because the final product receives high value from the market. Although, the price depends on the size and quality of the pearls. The oysters are commonly found in remote tropical atolls where commercial exploitation of marine resources, such as fishes are difficult due to the lack of refrigeration and shipping facilities but Pearls do not require any such type of facilities and have a very simple processing.
It is a compatible occupation for those people who like working on water and have boating, diving or fishing skills. It will not harm the environment and can increase the wild Pearl oyster population in some time, if it is managed properly and can be the best opportunity for Business Development in many isolated Island areas.
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Cautions before starting Pearl Farming
Pearls are a high value product but still many farmers fail in their attempts to make a living by Pearl farming. There are three key points to remember while starting Pearl farming commercially. They are:
- Successful Pearl farming requires a long-term investment of time money and hard work because the first Pearl harvest can take a period of 2-3 years and most farmers will not realise the profit until the second or third harvest and due to this reason, you should have enough money, time and patience to care for the farm during this time.
- Production of high quality pearls is the key to having a profitable farm. Each crop of Pearls produce only 5 to 10% of high quality gems. These few top quality pearls contribute 90% of the profits while the average quality pearls just recover the cost of their production and the lowest quality bring lower prices than the production cost. Top quality pearls can be produced by taking good care of the pearl oysters during all the stages of farming and it also requires a good grafting technician. You can just ruin the good pearl if you do not give proper attention to the farming.
- Production of high quality Pearls is only possible under certain conditions. You must meet the following criteria before you start farming:
- Reliable source of Pearl oysters
- Suitable sites
- Sufficient funds to establish and operate a Farm
- Access to grafting technicians
- Ability to market pearls
If you do not meet these requirements, you can simply fail in the Pearl farming and it is just as risking your money.
Apart from all the above precautions, there are some other recommendations for Commercial Pearl Farming. They are:
- You need to set your farm Pearl farms need a simple structure like Tahiti or Tahitian longlines, rafts and underwater trestles. You can use any of these combinations depending upon your need and location.
- Also, you need certain equipment like chaplets, Lantern baskets, pocket nets and floating or submerged trees for holding the adult pearl oysters.
- The farm should be frequently monitored to produce high quality Pearls and you should regularly check for the damages, missing lines and floats.
- Always clean the pearl oysters from the fouling organisms that grow on the oyster shells and it should be handled with care during the cleaning process.
Freshwater Pearl Farming Method
The cultivation of freshwater pearls requires modern surgical skills and a farm for raising them. The Pearl farmer starts breeding and raising oysters in just 2 to 5 years and if they have got the surgical skill then they can grow thousands of them.
They just need to protect their farms from uncontrollable and unpredictable forces like severe storms, water pollution, diseases, extreme temperatures, infections, etc. But you need oysters for nucleating which you can easily grow in your farm by just collecting the oyster eggs.
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Raising of Oysters
Oysters are bivalve mollusks having rough irregular shells that are found in the oceans and are considered a seafood delicacy.
They are generally cultivated for food or pearls. For pearl cultivation, the larvae of the oysters are kept in controlled conditions where they are allowed to swim freely in the water and when they are a few weeks old they are transferred to the wild (actual marine system) where they get attached to stable objects such as rocks.
In a few months, the larvae grow and turn into baby oysters which are then collected by the collectors. After they are collected, they are transferred to the nursery which is the separate section of the farm for baby oysters.
Here, these are nurtured for about 1 to 2 years until they get ready for nucleation. Nucleation or Grafting is a surgical process in which foreign object is surgically inserted inside the oyster to produce real Pearls. These pearls have the shape of cultured pearls and the size of freshwater pearls.
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Grafting the Pearl Oysters
For the grafting process, the pearl oysters should reach a size of 4.5 to 6 inches. The older and larger pearls can be grafted but they don’t have the ability to produce high quality pearls. Before Grafting, the pearl shells should be regularly cleaned as it keeps the oysters healthy.
The Pearl oysters are slightly opened using special tools. By the time, the seeding technician looks for a donor animal with the most beautiful nacre so that it can produce a quality cultured pearl. The donor animal is killed and the mantle tissue is removed which is then trimmed and cleaned until only the nacre producing epithelial cell remains.
That strip is cut into tiny squares of about 2 to 3 mm long and is inserted along with the nucleus into the tissues of the pearl oyster. This transplanted mantle or graft grows inside the pearl oyster that covers the nucleus with the tough tissue called a pearl sac.
This pearl sac contains the epithelial cells that continue to secrete nacre onto the nucleus and as the layers of nacre accumulate, pearl is formed.
Step by Step Process of Freshwater Pearl Farming
Freshwater Pearl culture involves 6 steps which are discussed below.
- Collection of Oysters or Mussels – Healthy mussels are collected manually from fresh freshwater bodies like rivers or ponds and kept in containers or buckets along with water and it is always recommended to use above 8 cm in anterior-posterior length in freshwater Pearl
- Pre-culture conditioning – The collected mussels are kept in crowded condition for two to three days in captivity with aged tap water with the stocking density of 1 mussel per litre water. This helps in the easy handling of these mussels during surgery.
Implantation of Graffiti and Mussel or Nuclei surgery – The implantation is carried out in three ways depending on the location.
3.A.1. Beads are inserted into the Mantle cavity region of the mussels by opening two valves of the species and the anterior sides mantles are carefully separated from the shell using a surgical set. This implantation can be done in the Mantle cavities of both the valves and just make sure that the mussels do not get injured at both ends during this stage. 3.A.2Mantle Tissue Implantation – In this process, the mussels are divided in 2 groups – the donor mussel group and the recipient mussel group. The mantle ribbon from a Donor mussel group is taken and cut into small pieces of 2 by 2 mm. These pieces are the grafts or small pieces of mantle tissues which are implanted on the recipient mussels. The recipient mussels are of 2 types – non nucleated and nucleated. In the non nucleated method, the graft pieces are introduced in the pockets that are created in the inner side of the posterior pallial mantle while in the nucleated method, the grafted piece is introduced in the pockets followed by a nucleus of diameter 2mm. The implantation can be done at both the valves and just make sure that the graft piece or the nucleus does not come out of the pockets. 3.A.3 Gonadal Implantation – This process starts by preparing the grafts like in the mantle tissue method. Firstly, a cut is made at the edge of the gonad of the mussel then the graft is inserted into the gonad followed by a 2-4mm diameter nucleus for keeping them in close contact. The nucleus should touch the outer epithelial layer of the graft and make sure the intestine does not cut during this surgical process.
- Post operative care of Mussels – The first 30 to 40 days after the grafting procedure is very critical because at this time, most deaths and nucleus rejection occurs and pearl sac is also formed during this period. Therefore the mussels are kept in post operative care units like nylon bags for 10 to 11 days which are supplied with natural feed and antibiotic treatment. These units should be regularly monitored and any dead or rejected nucleus mussels should be removed.
- Pond Culture – After the post operative care, the implanted mussels should be kept back in the ponds at 1 metre depth along with their nylon bags with not more than 2 mussels in 1 bag and hung from bamboo sticks or PVC pipes. About 25,000 to 30,000 mussels can be cultured per hectare providing them with organic and inorganic fertilisers periodically so that they can sustain their productivity. The dead mussels or the rejected nucleus mussels should be regularly checked and Also the bags should be regularly cleaned throughout the culture period of about 12 to 20 months. The mussels are fed with algae, cow dung and groundnut.
- Harvesting of Mussels – After the whole process of pearl culture, the mussels are harvested where the individual pearls are taken out from the mantle tissue or the gonad of the live mussel. Harvesting should be done when the nacre layer becomes 0.08 to 0.12 inches thick and avoid harvesting pearls with thin layers of nacre.
After Harvesting, the Pearls should be washed and kept in a safe.
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Pearls can be immediately sold in the market after collecting them and you can get a very good price for them. Oysters make many decorative items and nowadays perfume oil is also extracted from the oysters in Kannauj on a large scale. Also, you need to have a good marketing strategy for getting success in Pearls cultivation.