I have always loved shells and was interested in how one can make a pearl grow. This area grows the best south sea pearls in the world, so this is the best place to do a pearl farm tour. Pearls are the only gem that are grown by a living organism and it’s this biological process that makes them even more interesting for me. Willie Creek Pearl farm is 38km north of Broom on the Dampier Penninsula and one of the most comprehensive pearl tours that you can do. We were camped on a cliff just north so just had a short drive down to the farm.
A natural pearl is made of calcium carbonate deposited in layers and is produced when an irritant (often a grain of sand) gets trapped in the mantle folds of an oyster. Cultured pearls are produced by making this process happen. They make an oyster cranky and feel like it needs to protect itself by producing a pearl! M
Pearl Farming is a fully regulated fishing industry regulated by the Dept and Fisheries. It is unique in that it sustainable ecologically, economically and socially. There are 15 pearl licenses in Western Australia.
The early pearl shell industry was a very different story with oysters being pulled out of the sea as quickly as they could be found. It was similar to a gold rush with mother of pearl shell being used to make buttons, cutlery handles, car paints, furniture inlay etc. This all ended with the discovery of plastics around 1949.
With the end of the first industry a new one was born in the 1950’s in Australia. I had always heard that the cultured pearl industry began with Kokichi Mikimoto in Japan in 1899. British/Australian Scientist William Saville-Kent was experimenting with growing pearls on Thursday Island and was already able to grow half pearls and there is some who think that the Japanese may have accessed Kent’s knowledge and brought this back to Japan and patented it. Saville-Kent was Commisioner of Fisheries for Western Australia from 1892-1895 and was a pioneer of the concept of sustainable fisheries. M
This was a really interesting tour and made me appreciate pearls even more. I also found out while in Broome that there is a pearl farm just north of Sydney in Broken Bay. They are growing Akoya pearls- the smaller and darker “Japanese” pearls. M
After the tour we had a look at the next creek to the south, Barred Creek and picked up another couple of new birds.