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Pearls of Australia, a third-generation family business, has successfully spawned two species of pearl oysters across its hatcheries. Pearls of Australia, a third-generation family business, has successfully spawned two species of pearl oysters across its hatcheries.
02 June 2020 Posted by 

Pearl of a good news story brings a glow in tough times

A CENTRAL Coast business has come shining through with a pearl of a story in this time of economic doom and gloom and in doing so, has created an Australian first.

During COVID-19, Pearls of Australia has successfully re-deployed the tourism and retail arm of its business to the project of spawning pearl oyster shells.
And in doing so, it has boosted the longevity of the Australian pearl industry during these uncertain times. As an Australian first, this initiative has successfully resulted in the spawning of two species at the same time.
It has opened a good news story all round for the long-established pearl farming operation, Pearls of Australia.
With innovation as the key to survival and ultimate success in the crisis, the business pivoted its retail and tourism arm to a hands-on farming initiative, to ensure the long-term livelihood of Australian-grown pearls.
Pearls of Australia, a third-generation family business, has successfully spawned two species of pearl oysters across its hatcheries at the same time.
The new spawnings are a significant achievement, particularly during COVID-19 with its impacts being felt both domestically and around the world.
The company’s tourism and retail employees were given a hands-on role by managing director and marine biologist James Brown, who lives and breathes pearl farming.
He decided to concentrate efforts during the down-time on spawning pearl oysters, in an initiative to boost the cultivation of authentic Australian pearls and ensure the industry’s livelihood in the years to come.
The spawnings occurred between Pearls of Australia’s two pearl farm operations which produce two different pearl oyster species: the Broken Bay Pearl Farm on the Central Coast producing the Pinctada fucata  ‘Akoya’ pearl and the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm in Broome, producing the famous giant Pinctada maxima  ‘Australian South Sea’ pearl.
Mr Brown said the ability to continue with a pearl shell breeding program was vital to the long-term success of the business. It also represents a first for Australian pearling, as the joint venture between the two pearl farms cultivated the two species of native pearl shell at the same time.
Representing more than 70 years of pearling, Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm in WA is the oldest Australian-owned pearl farm and its hatchery operation is essential in recovering the industry from a disease that devastated it in 2007 and led to ongoing productivity issues.
The Broken Bay Pearl Farm is NSW’s only cultured pearl farm and represents the development of an entirely new industry for the region, opening in 2003.
Many Challenges
But despite all the challenges of pearl farming, nothing could have prepared the company for the current crisis.
“We have lost over 90% of our revenue in the last few months due to this pandemic,” Mr Brown, said.
“By continuing this breeding program, we are demonstrating confidence in the longevity of our industry, as the results of these pearls won’t really show commercial value for another for five to 10 years.
“Timing is everything when it comes to spawning oysters; similar to coral - the moon and the seasons must align and February and March full moons were the optimum times of the year,” he said
“The fact that the two different pearl oyster species on either side of the country managed to spawn at the same time is a truly exciting and magical event.”
He said it took up to six years from spawning tiny little oyster larvae in specialised hatcheries to finally harvesting a pearl.
The oysters are two to three years of age before they can be ‘seeded’ to start the pearl culturing process and it is another two years before the pearls are fully grown and ready for harvesting.  From there, it can be another year for the pearls to be sorted, graded, and set into jewelry designs ready for sale.
“it highlights how huge the risk is for our industry,” Mr Brown said. “If we had not undertaken the spawnings because of COVID-19, no matter what the outcome, we wouldn’t have a pool of shell to seed in 2023 and no pearls to harvest in 2025.”
“Hatcheries cost thousands of dollars to run and facing no income for 2020, we had to make the decision if we were going to cease operation or continue to produce millions of babies,” Mr Brown said.
“The COVID-19 crisis certainly threatens the pearling industry, but Pearls of Australia chose to persevere with the important spawning process partly because of the previous crisis that crippled the Australian pearling industry. It was a biosecurity crisis just like this, only affecting our pearl oysters not people, and one our industry has never really recovered
He said in three years they hope to have a few thousand shells ready to seed for pearls.
“After two more years of hard work we hopefully will have a handful of the world’s highest quality gems in our hands,” Mr Brown said.
• Pearls of Australia originated at Cygnet Bay, north of Broome, cultivating Australian South Sea pearls.
• It is committed to investment in authenticity research, to facilitate the industry about pearl quality based on source of origin, species and purity.
• Pearls of Australia guarantees seven pearl virtues with its pearls: the traditional five - size, shape, color, surface, lustre - with two new additional virtues - provenance and purity.
• In 2009, Mr Brown ‘opened the gates’ to the family’s remote pearl farm at Cygnet Bay, two hours north of Broome on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula. For the first time in Australian history, the general public was able to take part in an authentic pearling experience, gaining access to pearls direct from the waters where they were cultivated.
• Due to the success of this venture, in December 2017, he bought into the Broken Bay Pearl farm on the Central Coast, to bring their innovative approach to Australia’s ‘newest’ pearling region.
• By working directly with the pearl farmers, Pearls of Australia is able to offer visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in a working pearl farm, to personally handle the pearls and to see, first-hand, how pearl quality is judged, as well as being able to purchase certified premium pearls from the farm.


Michael Walls
0407 783 413

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