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Pearls: Threatened by Global Warming?
Pearl Scene

Pearl farmers live in some of the world’s most beautiful places: sheltered lagoons with pristine clean waters and some of the world’s highest biodiversity. In fact, studies show that pearl farming actually improves the surrounding environment. But this closeness to nature also means that pearl cultivation is also one of the most vulnerable industries to climate change.

The pearl commission of CIBJO, the World Jewelry Confederation, has taken the unusual step of endorsing the Kyoto protocol and calling on nations that have not yet endorsed it—including pearl producers Australia and China and the largest pearl market, the United States—to do so.

The change in climate threatens the pearl industry in two ways. First, higher sea temperatures may increase oyster mortality rates. Second, higher temperatures may result in more severe weather. Pearl farms are often threatened by typhoons and a greater incidence of severe weather could make it difficult for some pearl farms to remain profitable. The threat is most acute in the tropical producing regions near the equator.

“Global warming is a threat to the pearl industry because if the sea water temperature rises by one or two degrees Celsius in some of the tropical areas we will see higher mortality rates and possibly lower quality, lower luster pearls,” says Martin Coeroli, the managing director of Perles de Tahiti and president of the CIBJO pearl commission.

Although there have been no scientific studies on oysters and temperature, Tahiti has already experienced the possible affect of warmer waters. “In Tahiti in 1985, we had a massive oyster mortality due to a rise in water temperatures that year,” Coeroli says. “It had never happened before. This might happen in the future on a more regular basis.”

The Philippines is one pearl cultivation area that may be affected by increased water temperature, rising sea levels, and increasingly severe weather.

“Most people in the cities don’t know what is happening on a daily basis with nature. They don’t see the evolution and intensity of natural phenomena becoming cataclysmic,” says Jacques Branellec of Jewelmer, the leading producer of South Sea cultured pearls in the Philippines. “Living at the shore for 40 years you can see the sea level getting higher so it’s not speculation if the sea level is going up, or the temperature is going up, it’s a reality that we live with on a daily basis.”

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