December 5, 2012

International Regulatory Schemes for Eco-Friendly Pearls

A pearl necklace is the result of combining a fragile, environmental indicator species like the pearl oyster with a multibillion dollar international jewelry industry.  When an indicator species is the subject of a multibillion dollar industry, there are economic reasons to monitor water quality and ensure return on investment.  Since pearl oysters only produce gem quality pearls in the cleanest water, a pearl oyster farmer is motivated to maintain a pollution-free coastal habitat and to respond rapidly to environmental threats.  By implementing industry standards for the operation of pearl oyster farms worldwide, there is an opportunity to increase the positive externalities of pearl production:  cleaner water, healthier coastal habitats, and improved working conditions for indigenous people.

Since pearl oysters are filter feeders, they remove pollutants and heavy metals from the water, thereby, improving water quality.  But, when the pollution is greater than these filter feeders can handle, the pearl oyster mortality rate rises and the quality of pearls falls.  A pearl oyster farmer is financially motivated to respond to high levels of pollution.  The pearl producer must be able to work domestically to improve national waters and with neighboring countries to protect shared water basins. In particular, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] has developed national strategies assisting aquaculturalists in sharing industry knowledge and advancements with neighboring countries, and building cooperation in maintaining a healthy marine environment.  The FAO also calls upon individual nations to promote regulations and laws that will protect aquaculturalists, such as control standards for industrial or agricultural run-off water pollution, seepage from garbage dumps, and city sewage treatment.  These national strategies for sharing and cooperation are a way of encouraging nations to maintain a healthy coastlines and communication with neighboring countries regarding shared bodies of water. 

Today, pearl oyster farms are located throughout Australasia, the Middle East, and South America.  Many of these locations are remote and include environmentally threatened coastal areas inhabited by indigenous people with long-standing claims to the coastal resources.  The Nature Conservancy [TNC] has developed Marine Conservation Agreements [MCA] to negotiate mutually favorable contracts between large companies and small communities.  These agreements combine economic incentives with conservation commitments, and, use anthropological studies to assist in protecting the interests of the local people.  These MCAs are exemplified by the agreement between Atlas South Sea Pearl Company and the Kawe people 

When a farm includes one of these MCAs in their business plan, the pearls cultured can be deemed 'green.' In this context an aquaculturist make use of  national strategies to strengthen national and international efforts to maintain a pristine coastal habitat. Because the pearl oyster is an environmental sentinel, the waters of the coastal area will be monitored by farmers invested in the health of the local environment and prepared to fight for the long-term health of that investment.

Written for SIEL by:

Heather Murray, 3L