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Pearl Farming as an Adaptation Strategy for Climate Change?

Pearls are the only organic gem with global appeal across numerous cultures. Their origins in oysters that often need a particularly clean and temperature-sensitive environment provide them with an important connect to climate change strategies. Often pearl farming also occurs in vulnerable small-island states, which have few options for economic development if tourism declines due to coral bleaching. Pearl farming can coexist with coral systems and, in fact, recent research conducted under the auspices of the National Geographic Society suggests that tropical fish abundance can be higher around pearl farms. No doubt pearl farms themselves could be vulnerable to climate change. However, there is still ample opportunity for their development in many sheltered geographies.

Earlier this year, the Sustainable Pearls Forum took place in Hong Kong, bringing pearl industry leaders around a table to discuss the importance of sustainability for cultured pearls. This event included companies such as Paspaley, Robert Wan, Jewelmer, Tiffany & Co. and Mikimoto. The Forum highlighted the potential of pearls as pioneers of sustainability in the jewellery industry and demonstrated that there is a clear business case for sustainable cultured pearls. All the videos and presentations at this event are now available online.

James Paspaley showcased how the Paspaley pearling company operates with little impact in remote marine areas by having only sea-based operations in Australia. Mr. Paspaley argued that, "from my perspective the simplest and first step in sustainability is the preservation of the wild stock and the environment itself" and that "the overall conclusion is that the pearling industry is environmentally benign. In fact, it could be argued that the industry has an environmentally beneficial effect. If it were not for the existence of the pearling industry, there would be fewer influential advocates for the environmental preservation of this remote region."

Responsible pearl farming is unique because it is about not just preserving vital ecosystems but also producing high-quality pearls. This economic and environmental synergy, particularly with reference to climate change concerns, enables producers to market their pearls in unique and profitable ways. As a business opportunity emerging from climate change adaptation, the promotion of pearl farming in vulnerable tropical coasts deserves greater attention.

The results of a US jewellery consumer market survey carried out by Sustainable Pearls and MVI Research were presented by University of Vermont researcher Julie Nash. These clearly showed that there is a business case for sustainable pearls. The Forum also included a side event in which pearl producers discussed Sustainability Principles for pearls that will be launched in 2015.