Archive for the 'Pearl farming' Category
Before I start I want to apologize for the long wait… but we have finally finished operating our tens of thousands of “Rainbow Lipped oysters”, and hopefully this means that in a couple more years we will have thousands of beautiful Cortez pearls available for all our customers and friends. It was a both a long (it begun in November 2012) and very cold (temperatures of 6/42 degrees Celsius/Fahrenheit inside the “pearl lab” and of 12/53 degrees Celsius/Fahrenheit in the sea) seeding season, but apparently the operations went well and now it’s just a matter of waiting and of taking good care of our precious little oysters.
Do we have news? Yes we do! By now you know all about our presence in the Christmas edition of the “Bazaar Gilberto 2012” held in Mexico City, of the television program crew that visited last December, but let me tell you about the many other visitors we had: this last February we went up to the Tucson Gem Show, but many Jewelers/Designers also came down from that city to visit our farm, we also had the pleasure of being visited by gemologists from the Gübelin Gemological Lab: Stefanos Karampelas (of Greece) and Pierre Hardy (of France) who are on a quest to find the mysterious origin of the color of our pearls (with a very interesting theory), we also had the visit of Julie Nash, researcher at the University of Vermont and collaborator in the "sustainable pearls" project which has been supported by the "Tiffany Co. Foundation". And in addition to these distinguished visitors we also had the visit of several Mexican and Puerto Rican baseball fans who were at the world famous "Caribbean series 2013" which was held in Hermosillo, Sonora, and hundreds of Canadian and American visitors as well, so in all it was another busy but fruitful winter.
Starting next week I wish to continue with the Fluorescence thread I started on this Blog last year, since I am sure that the subject will be of interest to many of you (because it is) and you will learn new techniques to distinguish between the real and fake (faux) pearls, as well as between different types of cultured and natural pearls.
Also this year we will have an article about our newest designer: Tania Maria of Mexico City, a young woman with great sensitivity and artistic abilities; she made some exclusive jewelry design lines for our Cortez Pearls & Mabe. Unfortunately – and simultaneously fortunately- we cannot share many of her designs due to their enormous success at the 2012 edition of Bazaar Gilberto: out of 10 designs we had we only kept one.
Thank you for your patience and I hope that this year 2013 will provide us all with a a special experience for our senses, but especially in their appreciation of the beauty and uniqueness of the incredible pearls we produce here in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico.
Shavua Tov! Happy beginning of week for everyone.
This will be a short entry because it is just a comment on the visit made by the production team of British TV company that produces series for a very popular television channel (whose logo is similar to a Yellow rectangle and hint: they have a magazine by the same name) whose name I cannot disclose because I we to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but this particular program is about out-of-the-ordinary farming activities, mainly interesting situations that involve the use of unusual animals that produce out of the ordinary products.
The show’s producer is Nick Patterson and he visited with cameraman Pete Allibone for an intense day of filming that included all the typical work activities in a pearl farm: the cleaning of oysters, the implant/seeding operation, the pearl harvest, diving at the farm, spat/seed collection and the traditional "release of pearls". In short: we were able of compressing four years of work in just one intense work and filming session of about 12 hours.
This is a review of some of the things that happened during the filming:
Spat/Baby Oyster Collection
The month of December is not the best for spat collection, we were basically inspecting the spat collectors we placed in the bay in the month of September (the collectors are usually left in the sea between 2 to 4 months) and we had previously checked on them and we did not find much seed in them, thus we believed this going to be a problem for the filming, but our brave “Yaqui" workers had something to say about this: "Kiko" and "Zorrito" each found 5 small Rainbow Lipped Oyster seeds (and about 10 black-lipped oyster seeds), so after just a couple of hours of anguish and uncertainty, it had been accomplished and we passed unto the next round of trials.
Diving in the Farm Farm
Despite being in the month of December at the time of the shoot, water temperature had not dropped to what we consider a "normal winter" and we still had a "nice" temperature of 20 degrees Celsius (68 F), a temperature that made Manuel, Enrique and Pete subject to intense temperature changes, since being on the boat under the sun in their wetsuits subjected them to a strong heat and then they had to jump into the icy water… I feel no need to explain how they felt.
Additionally, during Winter, the thermocline breaks due to the strong Northwest winds and this causes an intense upwelling of the colder, deeper waters, and this in turn causes an intense phytoplankton bloom, thus the waters of Bacochibampo Bay become intensely green and murky…we usually refer to this as “swimming in cold pea soup”. Pete informed us several times that the shots were extremely difficult to take and that his camera showed terrible visibility (for us, accustomed to these things, we believe that visibility "fair", because when it is "terrible" you cannot even see the palm of your hand when you extend your arm), so hopefully the images will come out okay. Wishful thinking.
The Pearl Seeding Operation
Ah! The delicate surgical operation needed for the production of a cultured pearl: an arcane technical secret protected by Japanese technicians and “rediscovered” by Mexican researchers… an operation that should take no more than 40 seconds to minimize mortality of the oyster, this complex operation will be "immortalized" in this video and I can assure you it will be amazing just because of the amount of detail and complexity that Nick and Pete imprinted on their work: the number of shots and angles will be the delight of fans of the arcane, and I just hope that their video editing work will be able to eliminate the moments when everything was going wrong: when the beads were falling off, when the mantle graft needle did not "grab" the graft-tissue and when something could go wrong it just did.
But al of these problems had an explanation in the technical needs of the shoot: the light we use to illuminate the inside of the oyster was placed in the most appropriate place for the camera and not for the grafter (me), my head was in a position that was more suited of a patient visiting the chiropractor than for one who performs an operation, otherwise the huge HD camera would not have had a clear view to the inside of the oyster.
So, after three hours of continuous shooting they may have be obtained some 40-60 seconds of usable video, but I’m hoping this will result in a very interesting segment… but you will just have to wait until March 2013 to see the final result!
The Pearl Harvest
As you are well aware, we already finished the 2012 pearl harvest and therefore we did not have any pearl oysters ready for this event; so it was necessary for us to harvest some oysters that had to be harvested until the summer of 2013. We obtained a few pearls of great beauty and amongst these a beautiful dark purple pearl. This is perhaps one reason why this program wanted to film here in Guaymas and not in Australia or Japan or China: because the color of our pearls is totally different from other pearls productions and this is something that is sure to amaze those who think that pearls are only black or white, or in short to something like 95% of the public (but not to you, faithful followers of this blog) that these TV producers hope to have for this program.
The Pearl Release
I’ve just given this name to this “annual event” because I could not think of a better way to explain it in short, but this event happens just after the harvest of pearls, and what we do is simply take all the low quality pearls and –instead of selling them- we throw them all back into the sea (in a preselected, deep area of the bay, I’m just making sure you know this so you will be discouraged to look for them), there they will be "eaten" by nacre-eating bacteria (recyclers) who will release the pearl’s chemicals back into the water, where they will once again become available for other marine organisms. This is our way to avoid low-quality pearls from reaching the market, we do not cause ourselves any embarrassing moment and we avoid any temptation, ensuring a risk-free future for the Cortez Pearl: for us, pearl quality and value is essential, not optional.
Usually, the release of these pearls is carried out in a sort of ceremony, so we individually "dedicate" this event to a given person: this year we dedicated this event to all the brave Yaqui Indians that in times past gave their lives in the pearl fisheries, and also to the little oysters that produce our pearls and allow us to earn our daily bread and finally, to all our blessed customers, the people who put their faith in our quality and appreciate the unique beauty of this Gem. For this video shoot, the ceremony was entirely visual and we had to release the pearls at sunset, from a rocky cliff on the coast, where we were trying to avoid falling. This was definitively the most dangerous of all video shots.
As the Sun fell…
After a busy day of work on the farm and with a heavy fog that hung over the bay, Nick and Pete were preparing to take time-lapse shot of the sunset over the majestic hill "Tetakawi", but the thick fog left us totally immersed in an other-worldly gray mist; I’m sure this made our intrepid Londoners feel quite at home. The truth is that I had all but given up this time (absolutely NOTHING could seen farther than 100 feet away) but this intrepid pair sought ways to find the sunset and they did: a small chink of light appeared on the horizon and they achieved some beautiful shots.
Then it was time to say goodbye amid beers at a local pub, Nick and Pete showed us some of the photographs they took at the farm and many of the shots really amazed us with their quality: some artists really are at good at what they do, and have an amazing professionalism and vision that makes them truly worthy of the "Yellow Rectangle" brand (I am not saying they work for this brand, I’m just equaling the quality of their work to that of the implied brand…ok? But I’m not saying it is not…I’m not saying anything!).
We wished these artists a good trip back home, and we were left with a series of experiences and emotions. Maybe something that really catches my attention is just how many people around us were excited and surprised saying: “Did this TV program really came just to visit the Pearl Farm????” And when Nick Patterson asked where they came from (their trip was from London to Los Angeles and then to Hermosillo and finally Guaymas) and if they had really just come to visit us… this mind-boggling for some. Another thing that apparently caught everyone’s attention was Nick’s comment about the the view from my office and how it is much better than the one in his London office: It’s true, our Bacochibampo Bay is amazing in its natural beauty.
What I can say? Not much, just that our “world” is accustomed to assign value only to the things that have been massively publicized in the media and that have received an injection of millions of dollars, and against this mentality is hard to do anything, but perhaps this bit publicity will help us to achieve some greater regional acceptance; this is something we have not been able to achieve locally: can we become prophets in our own land? Only time will give us the answer…
It has taken me more than 4 weeks to finish this entry. We are in the middle of the pearl seeding season so most of my time is spent at the farm so I have to apologize for the terrible delay in delivery, I do anticipate more delays since we will continue this crucial procedures and we will also be going to this year’s Tucson Gem show…so please bear with me.
See you soon!
Well, we are back from Mexico City and the 2012 Edition of the “Gilberto” X-mas Bazar, it was a long and strenuous week of work but very fruitful. We hope we will be able to do next year’s edition and fortify the relationships we’ve forged this year. By the way: we did something we were NOT supposed to do (ever!) but everything was just peachy: The three of us traveled to Mexico City on the same plane, together. Period.
The thing is that we had made a promise –years ago- to avoid being together on airplane and car trips, this in order to minimize the risks of having all three of us perishing in an accident and leaving our Cortez Pearl Farm as a poor orphan…what would happen to the farm? Who could take care of our oysters? Who will seed them? Fortunately for us and for our 120 thousand smiling little oysters: we came back, safe and sound.
Anyway, I am writing a full account of the “Bazar Gilberto” event in our Spanish Edition of the Blog, but I will not re-write it in English. But if you are interested please let me know and I can surely change my mind. At present my mind is up for a re-writing of the famous “Pearl Fluorescence” video (with almost 17,000 views on YouTube), so we have new photos, more details and a much better video; I guess we are off to a good start!
What is Fluorescence? Simply put: you can see it when something emits a glow. Many minerals display this attribute, specially when exposed to Ultraviolet light (a form of radiation that is invisible to our eyes) and the way they glow –I’ll call it fluorescence from now on- can be unique and can help to distinguish from one substance/material to another. In gemology it is very useful to distinguish between real (cultured & natural) pearls and fakes/imitations.
In the case of pearls, the light you must use for this test is a Long Wave Ultraviolet lamp. Short wave lamps just don’t have what it takes to make this test work. If interested in buying one of these lamps I can recommend a fairly inexpensive LED light that can become your pearl’s delight and even your children’s favorite “camping toy” (Warning: Never, ever, allow anyone to look directly into the light!), since it can help you find scorpions at night (yes, some life forms also fluoresce!). This is both fun and scary, since on one occasion I realized we were surrounded by several dozens of these desert denizens and spent a rather sleepless night.
Anyway, you won’t be disappointed in the versatility you gain by purchasing one of these inexpensive UV lamps: you can find scorpions, mites, blood stains and even make your pearls fluoresce. Now that you are well equipped, let’s go and use the lamp!
Shine on You Crazy Pearl
I don’t really care for diamonds nor for many other gemstones… they are not “my thing”, but I can go crazy over all types of pearls (and I also enjoy all types of Opals and Amber) and this is what actually happened when I started taking some photos of pearls under long-wave UV: I went into a “Pearl under UV” frenzy… I photographed as many pearl varieties as possible under long-wave UV just to see the reaction of all these pearls to the fluorescence test. I do hope you will find the result interesting if not fascinating.
And of course, I cannot place all the results here at the same time, so I will produce several short posts with the results and a discussion, and we’ll have some less traditional pearls to test, such as: Abalone, Clam, Conch & Marine Mussel, as well as the whole array of Cultured Pearls (Akoya, Freshwater, South Seas and Tahitian blacks), Mabe Pearls, Fakes/Imitations and even some Natural pearls. Some of these pearls have very interesting reactions to long wave UV so keep posted.
In the meantime I leave you with a taste of the fun we will have with this test…a found this little critter in one of my work-boots last year. I keep him in my office as a good luck charm, and here we have him “hugging” (to the left) a freshwater pearl and to the right a Cortez Pearl.
Anyway, be safe and always look inside your boots before you wear them on!
BTW: This little Desert denizen –and the pearls- are glowing/fluorescing thanks to the use of our UV lamp.
For us here in the Sonoran Desert it is a time in between seasons that most people know as “Fall” or “Autumn” but that for us desert-dwellers just means “Summer is Over”. Most people in the area just consider we have two yearly seasons: Summer and Not-Summer. Spring and Fall just last about two very pleasant weeks each, so I do have to agree with local wisdom on this one. Also gone are hurricanes, and I do want to take the time to express my heartfelt condolences to the people that have been affected by hurricane “Sandy” throughout its destructive path in the Gulf of Mexico and into the Eastern coast of the United States of America.
And now that Summer is over we start to experience a couple of environmental changes that make the Sea of Cortez such a unique ecosystem, and that for those that have not experienced this may come as a surprise: the Gulf of California is a Sub-Tropical sea. And this basically means our waters are placidly warm during summer (local high temperature in Bacochibampo bay is 32 Celsius/89 Fahrenheit) and somewhat cold during winter (local lows are 12 C/53 F), and thus our environment changes dramatically from Summer to Winter, the Gulf becomes a different entity because:
1) Summer months: water temperature rise and water becomes clearer, with a dramatic drop in turbidity, this is due to a lack of strong winds. Winds are also responsible for turbidity and for the mixing of bottom nutrients (upwelling), which in turns causes the great algal blooms that enhance this turbidity. This is a great time to SCUBA dive or snorkel in the area, since you don’t have to use a wetsuit and you can spend quality time in the water.
2) Winter months: the strong Northwestern winds begin in November, causing massive upwelling and algae blooms, the summer thermocline breaks and releases deep, colder water. Visibility decreases to the point where you cannot see your hand if you extend it away from your face. Adding to this is the lowered temperatures that make it hard to stay inside the water for periods over 20 minutes, unless you use a wetsuit. Red tides are also common at this time of the year.
And in the process of preparing for this dramatic environmental change we have just received two full sets of SCUBA diving gear that will allow us to continue working underwater during these months. Both of these have been secured with the help and support of the Sustainable Pearl fund, and will be used for our normal farming operations and in order to continue our environmental studies in Bacochibampo bay, helping us to monitor the local pearl oyster and sea-cucumber populations.
And this is important because most local fishermen are less capable of fishing during winter and we can actually see a more natural behavior in the population dynamics. During summer we may have a fishermen visiting and destroying an entire population, finishing up months of work.
I do have to mention that –at present time- it is impossible for us to prove that the work or research we do as part of our commercial operation is actually causing a measurable positive effect on a grand scale, we believe the efforts are indeed having a positive balance –based upon our experience- on a local scale: the local populations of Black lip oysters and Sea Cucumbers are dramatically higher than those of previous years, but this information has already been covered in this Blog so I won’t give you this information yet again.
What we are gaining is a better understanding on population dynamics: why are some years better for reproduction? why did we have a large die-off? did something eat the oysters or was it the environment? Many of these questions can sometimes find an answer when a photo or video (taken with the HD Pro Camera purchased for this purpose) shows you a large 20 arm “Sun-Starfish” on top of a cluster of pearl oysters, or when a fisherman is seen capturing some sea-cucumbers.
Without the diving gear and the camera we would never have the answers, which in turn lead to more questions that require answering. In all, this is a race against Time itself: since Humans have been given a limited time to live and we have a such a small time-frame in which we can actually do something to learn from Nature, specially in an Environment we were never intended to live in.
Hopefully, and with the continued support of the University of Vermont & the Sustainable Pearls project, we will be able to gather more information and help future generations in the quest for sustainability.
The project we initially proposed to evaluate our pearl farm’s sustainability had the following goals:
- The evaluation of the pearl farm’s environmental effect on the local populations of native pearl oysters (and other species) and recovered oyster beds as niche-ecosystem.
- Local fishermen will support the pearl farm as nursery (refuge) area of commercial fish species. This will aid in improving long-term viability of artisanal fishing livelihoods in the region.
- A communication campaign about the success of the project, in conservation and socioeconomic terms.
- The lessons learned from the ecological evaluation and monitoring, sustainable practices, pearl-oyster technology and any associated activity of the pearl farm will be provided for the development of criteria and standards to evaluate pearl farms. This will feed into a feasibility study for the certification of pearl farms.
- The pearl farm -and its perimeter- is under way to be legally considered a wild-life refuge zone where fishing is not allowed, only pearl culture would be allowed.
Unfortunately, we have been unable to secure the funds to carry this out this research that has several benefits to our local environment and to the fishing communities too. Oh well! It’s all about politics in the end and we are not –and will never become- politicians and this –of course- reflects on our inability to secure support. I guess we will just continue to do things our way for the years ahead…which is not a problem but things just move at such a slow rate.
My next entry will be about the “Bazar Gilberto” event we had in Mexico City, and the new jewelry styles that will be available from the “Sea of Cortez Pearl” jewelry store. See you soon!
And here we are again, bracing for impact but hoping for the best: that Hurricane “Paul” (which is striking the Baja California peninsula as we speak) will keep to its trajectory and will avoid us completely, but it has happened before that some hurricanes simply jump over Baja’s Vizcaíno mountainous range and land square face on us. On the image below (courtesy of The Weather Channel) you can see Hurricane “Paul” is already causing damage on Baja, but the projected trajectory states it will move away from Baja and dissipate as it hits the cold California current.
Anyway, we have to prepare for the worst –as always- and we are removing our farm’s flotation and everything off our land facilities yet again (we had done this twice already in the month of September), so there is this little problem with our Pearl Farm Tours: it won’t be the full experience that we always want it to have, since we will have everything “packed up”. Once more we apologize to our visitors for this inconvenience.
Gilberto A.C.: Helping Others
And speaking of “packing up”, we have to tell you all about our up and coming trip to Mexico City for the week of October 22nd to the 27th, and this of course means we will not have any “pearl farm” tours available during this week. We expect to resume our normal Pearl Farm Tour schedule on October 29th, as soon as we are back from our trip.
If you have read our Blog before you probably know that we sometimes leave the farm to head off to certain events such as Gems Shows & the Pearl Ruckus, but this time we have been invited over to a special event known as “Bazar Gilberto Navideño”. The organizers of “Asociación Gilberto A.C” have been promoting this special Christmas Bazaar since 1993 in a constant effort to raise money to help out the communities that have suffered from the disastrous effects of hurricanes; actually the name “Gilberto” derives from the first time when this association started to help when hurricane “Gilbert” struck many Mexican States in September of 1988, with a destructive force yet to be equaled (at least in this country).
So, once this organization finished helping out there was yet another hurricane the next year, then unusual floods, and ever since we’ve had one natural disaster after another and this organization kept its internal structure and objectives, but with a continuous effort to help those in need. This Xmas Bazaar is a means to raise funds and all exhibitors will be there with the same frame of mind: Helping those in Need. Here you can see some photos and read a bit (in Spanish, but you can easily translate with Google/Bing) about last year’s event.
I also have a video to share: made
by Gilberto A.C. of the Veracruz branch, where we can see how they are helping the poorest communities with housing projects and installing much needed services in order to improve the lives of thousands. It is in Spanish language, but an image is worth a thousand words and not much more is needed to appreciate their work.
So, we feel honored to have been invited by Gilberto A.C. and we hope this event will be as successful as it has been in its 20 year history.
Wish us good luck and we’ll see you soon at the pearl farm in the Sea of Cortez…
And here we are again, trying to explain to the unique feelings we get during the month of September…once again, these being the unique perspective of a Pearl farmer. So, last time I was telling you about how the intense waves caused by a hurricane or tropical storm may destroy our farm (just the way it happened back in 2003) and how we have found a way to avoid this problem; let us continue with this story then.
The easiest strategy to follow is to increase the anchoring on the farm. Each long-line is anchored to the bottom by its ends, so this is so very obvious. Yet, it is not easy. Why? Because we use the anchoring system that is possible for us to us…technically speaking. You see, we live in an area that is basically devoid of certain services that would make our lives easier, so we don’t have specialized companies that have the boats needed to carry the larger and heavier dead weights we would need. If our boats even tried carrying that load they would simply sink!
Since this option is not available we have to find another solution, and the one we found is a temporary one: to reduce flotation (buoys) during the month of September. With this incredibly simple solution we are able of keeping our lines in place, and only if we had a very strong hurricane in our area we would remove ALL flotation and allow the farm to sink. Then it is a Race agaist Time…for our pearl oysters and for us, the farmers.
Why a race? Well, you have to see things as they are underwater…imagine the bottom of our bay: mainly covered with sand, with some areas that have rocks and shells in what seems to resemble some little islands or atolls in a “sea of sand”. This area has quite a good amount of pearl oyster predators, such as: the Octopus, the trigger-fish, starfishes and a whole bunch of carnivorous snails. In the case of the bottom-dwellers (all those predators that cannot swim) just picture them staring up to our protective cages that harbor hundreds of oysters each…as if this was just one immense buffet up in the sky.
So, the moment all flotation is removed the weight of the oysters in the cages makes the line collapse to the bottom. Again, I imagine all these little predators crying out with pleasure :”Manna from Heaven!”…and this is when the race begins. Starting this moment the cages will begin to be covered up with predators and they will begin to eat the oysters. Of course! We forgot about the protective mesh of the cages, the predators will never catch the oysters! If only this were true…
Most of these predators have some very efficient adaptations that allow them to by-pass the cage’s protections; snails usually have a long proboscis and starfish even have the ability to project their digestive system out of their bodies (if interested, just look at this video, at around minute 1:49 you’ll see the action). So, at this point imagine that our fearsome predators basically take out their straws, they sink these inside the oysters and they just “drink down” a nice protein shake. Just what the Doctor ordered! As you can see, the cages are an excellent protection from fishes, but not from snails nor starfish.
Raising the Farm Up again!
Of course, the best thing to do is just raise up the farm to its normal operation depth. It’s just a matter of diving down to the sunken lines (at a depth between 7 to 10 meters) and start re-attaching the floats. But this is easier said than done. Have you ever tried to sink down a float? It’s really hard and depending on the float’s size it is impossible. So, this is not an option…let’s try something else, but first get your crew ready for work because it is going to be a long day just trying to replace hundreds of floats on all our long-lines. And just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, guess what happens? Your crew, your workers…they don’t show up for work. Why?!?!? Don’t they care for their little oysters?!?!? Well, a terrible hurricane has just struck the area, that means that the city is flooded, roads destroyed, no electricity, no buses…the workers might even have to help their neighbors and friends and relatives since their houses might have become flooded or maybe they are staying over at a disaster shelter. It might take them days to finally come back to work. And during this time…the predators become even more plentiful than before, they can smell death and they –slowly, but surely- reach their destination…
Also, the boats have to be lowered back to the farm’s dock. They have been taken out of the water and into dry land to help them survive the cathastrophe, but without our workers there is not much we can do. The waters are murky and muddied after a storm, so visibility is null: you cannot even see your hand if you extend it in front of your hand. And thus you now understand why prayer is such a great comfort and such a viable option. It is much better to be spared of the wrath of the hurricane than being prepared for one.
In the case of the farm’s undeniable touristic attraction this month is also bad. During this month we give most of our workers a lengthy vacation (paid, of course!) and the skeleton team is left repairing nets and our land based facilities only: the oysters are left in the ocean for the duration of this month and they are neither cleaned nor handled; so when visitors arrive to the farm they just don’t get to see much action. We apologize for this inconvenience, but this is the best thing to do for our Rainbow Lipped oysters: they deserve a vacation as well.
What do I love of this month? Well, besides the food there is this other thing: THE ARRIVAL OF NEW JEWELRY. It is an exciting time to see the new jewelry from our designers! And this year we have some exciting items to share with you, such as:
- The “Opuntia” Pendant by Carlos Cabral: a unique piece of jewelry that clearly cries out “Mexican Gems”!!! This is a hand-forged item made with pure 0.950 Mexican Silver and set with all-Mexican gemstones: it has a big & colorful Blister Mabe Pearl and 3 Cortez Keshi pearls, but it also features a beautiful piece of Amber from the State of Chiapas and a Mexican Fire Opal from Querétaro. The shape of the pendant remembers us of the shape of the prickly pear cactus, and hence the name of Opuntia, which is the scientific name (genus) of this variety of desert plant.
- Our latest Cortez Keshi Pearl Necklace: this very special pearl necklace was made using the best keshi pearls from this year’s pearl harvest. The necklace has 85 keshi pearls starting in size at about 3.8 mm and the larger ones measure up to 6.5×9.0 mm, the necklace has a very baroque Cortez Pearl as well, uniquely colored, that measures 9.1 mm, so the whole array measures 17.5 inches in lenght.
- The New Designs made by Alejandra will be here soon! Just had a glimpse of the new earrings with keshi pearls and they are truly one of a kind!
Anyway, once you get to see this in perspective I do hope you will understand why we have all these “mixed feelings” during the month of September. Shana Tova and see you next time!
For us down here in Mexico the month of September represents many things:
For a Pearl Farmer, September also means a time for Healing and Fearfulness. This is the time when we repair our land-based facilities and use our time to mend and repair our nets, cages, aquculture lines and boats. Starting the month of October all the way down to June we have so much work with our Rainbow Lip Oysters that we do not have the time to taka care of any of these repairs. This is our time for Healing.
And what about Fear? This is the month when we get most of our tropical storms & hurricanes. If you have read some of our previous posts on Hurricane Damage on our farm and related facilities you will understand our anxiety over these powerful acts of Nature.
As always, the best option is to have seconds on the “Chiles en Nogada” and some would say this is not optional. In the case of the pearl farm we only have a couple of options:
There is a good reason to do both things, but I will specifically refer to the second option on this ocassion.
Fixing the Closet
One of the things that happen when we have a tropical storm in the area is that we have very strong winds and these will turn the surface of the bay into a great choppy mess. The waves become big (those that have visited may recall that -during summer- Bacochibampo bay is a beautiful mirror-like bay) and may have a powerful damaging effect on everything found on it, such as: flinging yachts unto the main road in San Carlos (something that happened in 2003 with hurricane “Marty”), “eating up” whatever land based facilities you have (such as a docking area) and destroying a pearl farm. How exactly can these large waves destroy a farm?
In case you don’t know how our pearl farm works, it is basically known as a “suspended culture long-line system” in the textbooks. If you are not an aquaculture expert you can refer to it as what I call “a marine closet” (with no skeletons inside): imagine you are in front of a typical closet and you have a metal-rod from which clothes are hanged (with the help of a wire hanger of course). Now: a “long-line” consists of a horizontal rope (ours are 50 meters/164 feet long) that is kept close to the surface by means of floats/buoys, and from this line of rope we “hang” our oyster cages. So, in essence these two seemingly different things work in almost the same way…but our closet is in the ocean and it would drift away unless we anchor the line, so each line is anchored to the bottom. The following diagram might clarify this a bit.
The nice thing about this kind of aquaculture system is that it is cheaper than other systems and you can use a small boat to easily gain access to your valuable “clothes” (the culture cages) just by plucking your arm into the water, grabing hold of the cage’s line we can easily drag it out of the water and then release the rope from the long-line and you’re off. A good system, barely offering any water resistance nor drag. Great to work with in winter time too, since water temperature may drop to some 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) and you don’t feel like getting inside the water when it is this cold!
Anyway, this great system works very well under most conditions, but hurricanes are an exception because the long-lines are tailored to a certain water depth by means of the lines that are anchored to the bottom. When the waves come in in great numbers –one after another one- and their height exceeds the operating depth what happens is that the floats will keep the main line near the surface and they basically drag the anchoring system off the bottom and the farm –as silly as it may sound- starts “jumping” like an inchworm, slowly, to where the wind & waves command it to go.
In the year 2003, hurricane “Marty” destroyed most of our farm because the lines were carried away, became entangled and many ended up in the beach…were our oysters suffocated. We had never experienced such an effect before and we have never seen it happen again because we now understand how to avoid this enemy.
There are solutions to this problem of course, some are easier to implement and others are more expensive. We managed to find a solution that is easily implemented and cheap. But let us talk of these solutions on the next episode…shall we?
It has taken some time to sort out a couple of things out all the things that constantly happen around us: pearl harvests, VIP visitors, giant natural pearls & broken hard-drives. But there are those little “pet projects” that you can never dedicate enough time but that are what add zest to your life, and one of these little projects is the “Sustainable Farming Project” that we began some 20 years ago.
Let me tell you a bit about this “idea” we had back then: we wanted to have a “pearl farm” but we would also grow many commercial varieties of invertebrates, mainly to promote their growth and help their populations thrive. That was the original dream in 1994, and now in 2012 we have been able to continue with these efforts, thanks to to combined help from local environmental NGO COBI and the “Sustainable Pearls” project that has been funded by Tiffany & Co. Foundation and the University of Vermont.
But, before I start by describing the environmental situation in the area around our pearl farm in the mid 1990’s and the stark contrast we have today, allow me to first give proper thanks to the people that have helped us recently in this project:
- Dr. Jorge Torre of COBI: who has sent his team of specialized divers to conduct a full fledged environmental study of the impact of our pearl farm in Bacochibampo Bay. A survey of several areas of the bay has been done, and the data is presently under analysis.
- Drs. Saleem Ali & Laurent Cartier: for their invaluable help in promoting our “pet project” as part of the “Sustainable Pearls” project and granting us the needed resources to help us share our work with the world: the Scuba diving gear and the special diving camera that we are now using to take photos and videos of pearl beds, the local marine life and our farming activities.
- Drs. Miguel Ángel Cisneros, Jaqueline García and Marco Linné for additional support regarding analysis and policies.
To all of you: my sincerest appreciation for the help you have granted to continue this labor of love.
Of the very first things we did in the 1991-1993 research phase was to conduct a survey of the populations of native species of bivalves (the main emphasis on pearl oysters of course). What we saw was a sad reality: most commercial species of shellfish had been severely depleted, mainly due to overfishing: pen shells, scallops & clams, all suffered a similar fate. Our results for this early period showed a small population of pearl oysters in Bacochibampo Bay:
- Some 88 Black-Lips (Pinctada mazatlanica), mostly large individuals (10-18 cm), mostly isolated and some in small groups (2-5), mainly found in the small islands and deep, isolated reefs.
- Very few Rainbow Lips (Pteria sterna), some 54 specimens, mostly small (4-8 cm), usually found in small groups on fan corals found in deeper waters.
At the same time we were also conducting “spat collecting” trials (in case you don’t know about this subject, you can read about the process here), in order to find out the correct season for the different species of bivalves, and back in 1991/1992 –not knowing any better- we believed we had good results:
- Black-Lip Average Spat per Collector: only 2 spats per collector.
- Rainbow-Lips Average Spat per Collector: 6 spats per collector.
But, as the amount of oysters growing in our protected cages increased, so did their fertilization rates, something that researcher Neil Anthony Sims clearly stated as a benefit of pearl farming:
“The pearl farms themselves then become agents of repopulation. Where once the oysters were isolated on the reefs, perhaps hundreds of meters from their nearest neighbor, a farm holds large numbers of mature, well-tended oysters in close proximity. This increases reproductive efficiency by better synchronization of spawning epidemics, and maximizing the fertilization rates of eggs, resulting ultimately in more recruitment.” (Excerpt taken from: SPC Pearl Oyster Information Bulletin #10, 1997, “Setting the Record Straight”)
As the amount of native pearl oysters increased in our pilot-culture farm, the amount of available spat started increasing, sometimes quite dramatically:
- Black-Lip Average Spat per Collector in 1997: 35 spats (an increase of 1,750%)
- Rainbow-Lips Average Spat per Collector in 1994: 220 spats (an increase of 3,666%)
Of course, there are many other factors involved in these figures, but it does give you an idea in the validity of Neil Sims opinion on pearl farming (and ours as well, since we found out about this as well, and we presented the information in the “Pearls ‘94” convention in Honolulu, Hawaii, under the name of “Perpsectives and opportunities for pearl oyster culture development on the coast of Sonora, Gulf of California, Mexico”).
This year we were able of catching an average of 10,000 Rainbow-Lip spats per collector, which is an increase of 4,545% over the 1994 figure. Ultimately: what does all of this mean for us? It means it is easier for us to gather the necessary spat for the needs of our farm (80,000 spats yearly), but it also means there is a special gift to the local environment.
Some people may just say: “Wow! All that larva in the water…it will simply die!”, because studies have found that out of every 1 million fertilized eggs only 1 to 10 (not thousands, nor hundreds: it is just one digit here) will actually survive to adulthood. And I do have to agree with them, but the effect has been blown out of proportion so far because we are clearly seeing a recovery of the local pearl beds.
The Environmental Benefits
Altough at present we have not been able to review COBI’s population survey data yet, we have some information available to talk about the positive effect of our pearl farm in the area:
1) The Black Lip Pearl Oyster population within the farm’s sphere of influence has increased: when in the early 1990’s we would find few, isolated, large (old) black-lips, now we find thousands (my estimates are in the vicinity of 5 thousand) of these animals living in tight clusters (from 3 to 20 specimens) on rocks and hard corals, and also on the sandy bottom. The fantastic thing is that we don’t really grow this species commercially, but we have mantained a small stock (usually between 100 to 300) for years just for their “breeding value”, and we enforce a no-fishing ban within our sphere of influence. The population increase since the early 1990’s to 2012 would be of 100,000%, so I guess this is quite good.
2) The Rainbow Lip Pearl Oyster population has not been analyzed yet, but thanks to information shared by Dr. Jorge Torre of COBI and Dr. Miguel Angel Cisneros of CRIP-Guaymas (local Fisheries office), we have been able to glimpse the magnitude of change possible due to our efforts: a large Pteria sterna pearl bed was found a small distance from our location, containing millions of individuals. We cannot share more information since I have not been granted the right (for very good reasons), but the bed is said to measure some 40 miles in lenght…something that has not been seen in the Sea of Cortez since hundreds of years ago, when the Spaniard explorers described similar beds.
Now, I do have to state that we do not have any clear evidence that our farm is responsible for this giant pearl bed, because the only way to do so would be to place genetic tracers on our farm’s oysters and then see where their offspring end up, but there has never been any funding for such a study. Perhaps now we will be able to finally find some support for this project and hopefully claim ourselves as guilty of this shameful effort. By the way: hundreds of fishermen and their families are reaping the benefits of fishing this bed for its meat and pearls.
3) Local Fishes & Invertebrates: Yes, this kind of brings us back to the entry about the Sea Cucumbers I published some months ago, but its effects are even more profound to the local economy, since the pearl farm is basically one big reef: the cages are colonized by many species of algae and then attract all sorts of little invertebrates (worms & crustaceans) that in turn attract many species of fishes, and their offspring (the little frylings) can thrive in the farm and even seek protection within our cages until they grow larger.
And of course: we don’t fish these out and they are free to go whenever they please, thus our farm is a great fish breeding station for our community, a value that we cannot begin to evaluate (perhaps in the future, if funding becomes available). Also consider: we only use 1% of Bacochibampo bay’s surface area, yet you see dozens of fishermen always trying to fish within our area…something that is both infuriating and saddening, because we may loose all of our protected stocks (as it happened last year when a sea cucumber poacher took thousands of these in a day). Yet, we have started again and I’m happy to say our new batch of warty looking friends is doing quite well!
You can watch a 5 minute video I recently took of the fish life in our farm, and if you have fished here in the Gulf of California you will notice some valuable species such as the Yellow Snapper (Lutjanus argentiventris) and the Triggerfish (Balistes polylepis), which are very much in demand by both sports fishers and local fishermen. The farm is teeming with Life!
Fair Trade Pearls
Back in the year 2000, when we were finally growing our cultured pearls commercially, we had the dream of becoming a “major player” in the pearl industry but we also wanted to be different from many of the other players in the industry, specially regarding the environmental effect of the farm, the quality of our pearls and the way we would be involved with our community. In those days we had not yet heard about the Fair Trade Movement, nor of the Fair Trade Gems initiative, but when Enrique and Manuel met with Eric Braunwert back in 2003 we just knew we were all in this idea toghether. It just felt natural for us to support –and be supported- by this cause.
In the end, it is often said, that we all just “reap what we sow”…but since we do not reap the results of this pet project (since we don’t fish for our benefit, we don’t harvest natural pearls for ourselves and we don’t obtain public nor private subsidies or grants)…then I guess this is all about our Tikkum Olam: the search for a better world.
I hope we will be able to continue with our efforts and that more people will come to our aid as well, we are too few and the task seems enormous. But with your help and faith, it will be possible. Thank you all for your support.
We are still caught in the middle of the 2012 Pearl Harvest, so I have been too busy to post these last weeks: it has been a most interesting summer! Not only do we have the harvest, but we had the chance to have some very special guests here at the farm in what has been called a “Cortez Pearl Safari”.
This event was coordinated from Mexico City’s by GIA accredited gemologist Diana Benoit-Seegrove (Director of the “Instituto Geológico y de Alta Relojería de México, A.C.) . So, at the start of the month of June we had some 26 visitors at the farm, who visited us for two days, in order to:
- Harvest Pearls!
- Learn about the History of the Gulf of California pearl
- Pearl Quality & Grading
- Shop for Cortez Pearls
Our special guests were treated in full V.I.P. fashion: the choiciest oysters for harvesting, a trip to the pearl farm, they even had the chance of performing the solemn yearly “Pearl Offering” (when we basically dispose of all the pearls that did not attain our quality standards), they were offered delicious pearl-scallop delicacies as well (ceviche & aguachile) made from the delicious meat of the “Rainbow Lipped” pearl oyster.
This event was a tremendous success and had to be repeated just one week ago with a different, smaller, group of talented designers and jewelry owners.
Does this sound interesting to you? Would you like to participate in next year’s “Cortez Pearl Safari”? Just give us a call and we’ll find a way to fit you in.
And here I am again, adding the finishing touch on what is my version of the legend of “El Mechudo”. My story is different from all previously released versions, as it has no supernatural elements (“Satanic intervention”).
To add this new twist on the old legend, I will present the evidence used throughout this Blog’s series of “The Legend of El Mechudo”: from the place where these events unfold, to the demystification of the “claws of death” and now the “silent killer” (in this case: it is not stress). I -for one- simply cannot believe that an experienced diver was caught by a pearl oyster and then he just drowned. It takes something much more lethal than a pearl oyster to drown a proffessional pearl diver.
Therefore: if it was not the Devil himself nor a pearl oyster… What really caused the tragic death of “El Mechudo”?
As Delilah to Samson
Just as the biblical Samson, our mythical diver had a magnificent mane of hair which probably had some special meaning to him. And I have reasons to believe that his long hair was partially responsible for his untimely death. If Delilah was the one responsible for bringing about Samson’s misfortune, who was this Sonoran diver’s Delilah? Let us review a bit about the pearl oyster’s natural history to better understand what might have happened.
Habitat of the “Panamic Black-Lip Oyster”
The Black Lip Pearl Oyster -known as “Madreperla” in Mexico- is Pinctada mazatlanica, a bivalve that is found attached -by means of its byssus-to rocks, encrusting corals and other bivalves. As it was shown in the previous post’s video, it is not very difficult to detach them from their anchoring spot. As for the oyster’s habitat: I really do not percieve any danger for a long-haired diver here.
Do remember that “El Mechudo” is said to have secured his long-hair (probably with some rope or even turning his own hair into a knot), but it is not difficult to imagine it could have come loose after hours of diving. Here is where the danger truly resides.
For anyone who has dived or snorkeled in the waters of the Gulf of California, is easy to remember that there’s really nothing in the water or the sea-bed that can entangle you. Due to the lack of rivers reaching the Gulf, there are few contributions of earth-bound material such as tree branches and shrubs, and it is not easy to entangle your hair between stones, so where’s the danger? Let us analyze the next species and its habitat.
The Habitat of the “Rainbow Lip Oyster”
The “Concha Nácar” or “Rainbow Lip Oyster” (Pteria sterna) is a very special animal in regard to its “taste” for settlement. It is adapted to a wide variety of habitats: rocky and coral reefs, on top of the shell of other bivalves, forming “carpet clumps” on sandy-muddy areas and –especially- they can be found living on gorgonian -or fan- corals. Additionally, their byssus is much more stronger than that of the Black-lip pearl oysters, and it takes a lot more effort to detach them from their anchoring spot.
Final Remarks & Video
A fan coral is the “perfect trap” for a long-haired pearl diver. During the shooting of the video about this legendary character I used a doll with a “wig” (one of the most difficult things I’ve recently done: I’d rather juggle with sea urchins anytime), and everytime the fake hair was near the fan coral it would easily entangle itself, becoming a small burden to dissentangle the hair for a new video shoot.
Additionally: I have a video that shows how an oyster is unable to keep their shells closed on an object for more than just a couple of hours. The test was performed, with the help of my assistant Antonio “El Tigre” Mendoza, who helped to perform experiments -both under natural & “laboratory” conditions- and we obtained consistent results in “oyster retention”: usually of less than 60 minutes on each tryout.
The following video was produced in order to show you how the oyster releases its grip after some time. For this I used one of my son’s “GI Joe” action figure, around which we devised a floating system (to simulate the upward flotation pull of a victim) and continuous video filming was performed until the oyster released its “little victim”. As a note of interest, you will notice that there are a couple of “curious sea-hares” (Aplysia californica) that appear during the video…this might be as close as they can get to become part of a “feature film”, hence the attraction (I guess).
Thus, based on all the information we have talked about during this series of blog entries (and in the best “Clue” game fashion) I dare say the following:
“El Mechudo” dove to deeper waters to try and release a “Rainbow Lip Oyster” that was attached to a large fan coral (these larger specimens are usually found in deeper waters) but his hair became entangled. He could not use a knife to cut his hair free (because slave divers were not given such a weapon)…thus the great Yaqui diver drowned. Satan must be declared blameless.
The only way the body of this diver could have remained in the same site for days or weeks (once the body fills with gases form decomposition it would float away) is if it was firmly attached to a coral…any oyster would have released the hand of a dead diver within hours.