Archive for the 'People & Pearls' 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!
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…
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 back, with a strong desire to revisit the series of posts about the legendary pearl diver knows as "El Mechudo", and on this instance we will cover the most grim and tragic event from the history of this legend: the death of this blasphemous Yaqui pearl diver.
The last time we dealt with this subject was back in January 6th with the entry of “Who was ‘El Mechudo’?”, and on that occasion we detailed the possible site from where the pearl oysters where being fished and where this legendary diver is said to have drowned. Now comes the time to analyze and dissect the manner of his tragic death by reviewing several versions of this legend:
“One of the many Yaqui indians -before he slid into the watery embrace to find the pearl that belonged to the Virgin- said “I am claiming the pearl for the Devil”… Chronicles tell us that the unfortunate man never came out of the sea and that all his companions fled in terror and commenting on the outcome of that terrible blasphemy.” (Author and Date unknown)
Another version of the event, cited by Fernando Jordan (1967) even mentions that: Satan took the fisherman’s word, and the fisherman did not reappear and the waters did not return his body. The place is now taboo and no one goes there to fish for pearls. Those who have seen -at the bottom- the ghost of the blasphemous diver, who has grown long haired and beard. He seems alive and in his hand he holds a huge Black-lip pearl oyster shell. Or even this version, that I personally heard –totally devoid of the supernatural-in La Paz about 10 years ago, and which I have adapted as follows: ‘El Mechudo’ went once more into the salty embrace of those turquoise waters…never coming out again. But there was no time to find out what had happened to him…bad weather just made it impossible. The next morning the fishing armada made it to the same spot and the divers plunged into the waters. A certain diver screamed out "I found him! I found him!" and every single diver moved into that spot. What they saw was a spectral image: the lifeless body of "El Mechudo" still clutching the giant oyster that had caught his hand in self-defense… his long hair had come loose and flowed all around him. The very obvious cause of death of the legendary diver is by drowning, and this could have occurred due to many causes: fatigue, vascular problems, he could have become "entangled" in some way or have suffered the attack of an animal. The legend somehow suggests that the pearl oyster might have had something to do with his death: that the diver’s hand had been captured by the oyster, preventing him from surfacing. But in addition, we understand that there is a permanence of the drowned diver on the site, his body being found there later… and this in turn ends the legend with a “haunted pearl bed”, an accursed ghost that scares off all other divers. So, the death of “El Mechudo” leads us to the myth of the “killer clam”, the basic premise being a clam -or pearl oyster- that is big and heavy enough to keep a diver from surfacing…just long enough for him to drown. And in this case the oyster is also able of keeping the captured hand (alongside the rest of the body) clutched down a sufficient amount of time (at least over 24 hours) for the other divers to find his a body in the same spot. This would give rise to the myth of the “Murderous Oyster” (to give it a quirky adjective). Is this possible at all? Can an oyster keep a man trapped that long? Let us find out…
Another version of the event, cited by Fernando Jordan (1967) even mentions that:
Satan took the fisherman’s word, and the fisherman did not reappear and the waters did not return his body. The place is now taboo and no one goes there to fish for pearls. Those who have seen -at the bottom- the ghost of the blasphemous diver, who has grown long haired and beard. He seems alive and in his hand he holds a huge Black-lip pearl oyster shell.
Or even this version, that I personally heard –totally devoid of the supernatural-in La Paz about 10 years ago, and which I have adapted as follows:
‘El Mechudo’ went once more into the salty embrace of those turquoise waters…never coming out again. But there was no time to find out what had happened to him…bad weather just made it impossible. The next morning the fishing armada made it to the same spot and the divers plunged into the waters. A certain diver screamed out "I found him! I found him!" and every single diver moved into that spot. What they saw was a spectral image: the lifeless body of "El Mechudo" still clutching the giant oyster that had caught his hand in self-defense… his long hair had come loose and flowed all around him.
The very obvious cause of death of the legendary diver is by drowning, and this could have occurred due to many causes: fatigue, vascular problems, he could have become "entangled" in some way or have suffered the attack of an animal. The legend somehow suggests that the pearl oyster might have had something to do with his death: that the diver’s hand had been captured by the oyster, preventing him from surfacing. But in addition, we understand that there is a permanence of the drowned diver on the site, his body being found there later… and this in turn ends the legend with a “haunted pearl bed”, an accursed ghost that scares off all other divers.
So, the death of “El Mechudo” leads us to the myth of the “killer clam”, the basic premise being a clam -or pearl oyster- that is big and heavy enough to keep a diver from surfacing…just long enough for him to drown. And in this case the oyster is also able of keeping the captured hand (alongside the rest of the body) clutched down a sufficient amount of time (at least over 24 hours) for the other divers to find his a body in the same spot. This would give rise to the myth of the “Murderous Oyster” (to give it a quirky adjective). Is this possible at all? Can an oyster keep a man trapped that long? Let us find out…
The "Mortal Clamp"
Pearl oysters are bivalve mollusks that have a strong adductor muscle which is used to achieve the closure of its two shells, this is used in order for the oyster to protect itself and avoid being eaten by predators; a bivalve’s life is partially dependent on its ability to close and keep its shells closed. If we introduce our fingers into an oyster it will certainly close its valves and it will clamp our hand… and what happens if we cannot release from its hold? In a few minutes we will drown.
Now, even if the oyster closes its shell with our hand in it, what prevents us from simply coming up with the oyster to the surface? Well, oysters are strongly attached to their living place (usually on rocks, corals and other shells) by means of a myriad of thin, elastic fibers referred to as "byssal threads" which are secreted by the byssal gland. These fibers look a bit like plastic, are somewhat elastic and very resistant, but will it be able to securely anchor the oyster when a person is desperately fighting for dear life? To answer both questions, I conducted the following “experiment”: I went “pearl diving” securing several Black lip pearl oysters (Pinctada mazatlanica), and intentionally placing my fingers inside them to simulate the “mortal clamp” and then it was a matter of coming out with my life. The result of this simple experiment can be seen in this short video:
Now, even if the oyster closes its shell with our hand in it, what prevents us from simply coming up with the oyster to the surface? Well, oysters are strongly attached to their living place (usually on rocks, corals and other shells) by means of a myriad of thin, elastic fibers referred to as "byssal threads" which are secreted by the byssal gland. These fibers look a bit like plastic, are somewhat elastic and very resistant, but will it be able to securely anchor the oyster when a person is desperately fighting for dear life?
To answer both questions, I conducted the following “experiment”: I went “pearl diving” securing several Black lip pearl oysters (Pinctada mazatlanica), and intentionally placing my fingers inside them to simulate the “mortal clamp” and then it was a matter of coming out with my life. The result of this simple experiment can be seen in this short video:
The first fishing event –described as “Capture #1” in the video- shows the usual living place for black-lips in Guaymas: attached to rocky reefs at depths ranging from almost surface level and down to some 10 meters in depth (20 feet). The oysters are now –once again- seen forming small clusters, and several of these make up for a pearl bed. I dislodged oysters quite easily…in just seconds and with no effort.
Fishing event "Capture # 2", was carried out at a depth of 4 meters (13 feet), on sandy bottom (but littered with pebbles and shell bits of various bivalves). On this substrate, pearl oysters usually attach to shells and on the video it is clearly visible how the oyster is easily released and comes up with a fragment of a “pen shell”. The oyster measured 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter and had another -smaller- pearl oyster “piggy-backing” on its shell.
In the third fishing event (capture #3), at a depth of only 3 meters (9.8 feet), we had an area of overlapping environments: mainly sandy bottom, but with the presence of encrusting corals and a small rocky reef nearby. I located a small group of black-lips and it was extremely easy to release a group of three oysters simultaneously.
And finally, I introduced my fingers several times inside different black-lip oysters and every time I obtained the same result: the oysters quickly closed their shells on my fingers and they held me as hard as it was possible for them, yet it was very easy to release my fingers in just seconds, thus my life was never in any danger. Just in case my mother or my wife ever read this blog entry: these experiments were performed at a depth of just a mere 1.50 meters (4.9 feet), so I was never under any duress nor undue risk.
And finally, I introduced my fingers several times inside different black-lip oysters and every time I obtained the same result: the oysters quickly closed their shells on my fingers and they held me as hard as it was possible for them, yet it was very easy to release my fingers in just seconds, thus my life was never in any danger. Just in case my mother or my wife ever read this blog entry: these experiments were performed at a depth of just a mere 1.50 meters (4.9 feet), so I was never under any duress nor undue risk.
How did the myth of the "Mortal Clamp" or of the "Killer Clam" (or whatever name you want to give it) emerge? Well, there are other varieties of bivalves in the World’s oceans, some being HUGE in size and of very HEAVY weight, which are quite capable of keeping a man stuck long enough to drown him. In fact, a there exists a particular animal known as the "giant clam" (Tridacna gigas), that is sometimes referred of as a “killer clam” (perfect title for a future Hollywood film), which inhabits the Indo-Pacific ocean, and which is perfectly suited to become a nightmare for any pearl diver. Just look at this cute photograph (taken from this page):
Wikipedia’s website even mentions that a U.S. Navy diver’s manual includes a technique that can be used by divers to rid themselves of the deadly clamp of this species of clam, and refers to the death of a Phillipino pearl diver which drew the gigantic “Pearl of Lao Tzu”, a huge calcareous concretion (or non-nacreous pearl) that was obtained from one of these giant clams.
- It’s really not all that difficult to fish for pearl oysters, given that there is sufficient abundance of them; the hardest thing about “pearl diving” will be the depth you have to dive down to in order to extract them and this only if you are using your lung capacity.
- There is no real danger of drowning once you are “captured” by a black-lip’s valves: its “claw of death” lacks the necessary strength to maintain an unbreakable grip. Furthermore: it is not difficult to remove them from their attachment point in the unlikely case they do.
Until next time…
“A Tiger loose on the Farm”
And on this new post we continue with the description of Jesus “El Tigre” Mendoza’s activities at our Pearl Farm:
All my life I have lived in Guaymas, yet I did not know that there was a place where animals were cultivated for the production of pearls. Of course I knew about edible oyster and shrimp farms, but I never imagined that we had a pearl farm, right here in Guaymas! but we had all heard the faint rumors. It was not until November 2010, when –while attending ITSON- I had a course named “Natural and Cultural Attractions”, the course’s professor being one of the Pearl Farm’s owners. Our new teacher -Douglas McLaurin Moreno- took the whole group for a field trip to this “farm” and was here that I learned how to they raised the “pearl oysters” for the production of cultured pearls.
It was a great experience to learn about pearl farming. And then, after almost two years of having visited the site, I finally had the opportunity to “work” here doing my “professional stays” at the pearl farm; in January of this year I became a key part of several research projects for the company, including one that aims to monitor the many marine species that grow alongside the oysters in the pearl culturing cages.
From that moment I began to understand the great importance of having a pearl farm in Guaymas, and later I began to think that this benefit is not solely for Guaymas, but for the entire Sea of Cortez. When we take the culture cages from out of the sea, to evaluate the growth of the “Rainbow Lip Oysters” (also known as Pteria sterna) there is always a great host of marine fauna alongside the farm-raised mollusks; it was impressive to see that in a such a small space –that of the cage- you can find such a great variety of animal species, in what appears to be complete harmony.
So I was tasked to keep track of all these species, keeping track of all vertebrate (fish) and invertebrate fauna: the different species found as well as their number, but being specially on the lookout for these 3 main species: the “Panamic Black Lip Pearl Oyster” (Pinctada mazatlanica), the “Pen Shells” (Atrina maura, Pinna rugosa) and the “Sea cucumbers” (holothurians). I still monitored dozens of other species such as: crustaceans (Spiny Lobsters, pistol shrimps, banded ghost shrimps -Lysmata californica- and swimming crabs), several fishes (Angel fishes, Soap-fishes, Groupers, Snappers, Catfishes, Eels & Blennies) bivalves (mussels, scallops, Blood Cockles, Chocolate clams) and many others.
It was very interesting to notice how many of these species grow, some even attaining large dimensions -as in the case of the Sea Cucumbers- of up to 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) in length. Holothurians are animals commonly known as “sea cucumbers”, due to their elongated bodies with a shape similar to that of that vegetable. They are related to starfish and sea urchins (Echinoderms).
Holothurians, have a very important biological function in coastal areas: they clean the seabed of those accumulated organic wastes. They belong to a group of animals referred to as bottom-feeders: they just basically eat the organic material found within the sediment (sand), and what they excrete is just clean sand, without any organic matter. And here why these animals have such a great biological importance: if a bay has an adequate amount of sea cucumbers, its sand will remain cleaner and we will be able to enjoy white sand, not the “dark and sticky” sand we sometimes find in some areas. This is what I was told here at the farm: that these animals are providing us all of with this free environmental service.
Just in the month of January, this pearl farm was able of “rescuing” (meaning: they were returned to their natural environment) some 2,262 sea cucumbers, which averaged 11 cm (4.3 inches) in length; if these creatures had been returned to their environment while still young they would have had become food for predators since their defense mechanism is not yet sufficiently developed (when a sea cucumber is attacked, it can expel its viscera (guts) which are sticky and mildly-toxic, but the sea cucumber does not die because it can regenerate its guts in a few days and just like that), but by growing them in a farm they will be able to escape their natural predators.
Although in Mexico Sea Cucumbers are not considered valuable (because people here do not eat them nor can they be used for souvenirs), in many Asian countries (such as China, Japan and Korea) they are used in their cuisine and they are also considered to be an aphrodisiac. Such is their demand in Asia that they have been fished out of our waters, these animals no longer doing their environmental service for us.
So this is where I began to understand the other great benefit of this pearl farm: not only are its benefits coming directly from the jobs that come with the production of the pearls, but the farm is also helping towards the reproduction and growth of other wildlife fauna, since the aquaculture cages offer protection and security to many species -providing refuge from predators- until they can return to the sea to continue their natural processes. The farm offers a free environmental service as well.
Therefore, this company does not just favouring the recovery of some animal species -such as with sea cucumbers- but it is also benefiting the local fishing industry; from my perspective I believe that the farm protects many species of fish that are commercially caught for human consumption or fish that become food for these and that are later released back into the Bay. This seems to be a true sustainable industry, not only for Guaymas but for the entire Gulf of California: an industry that does not lead to the extermination of marine life and where it will become protected for all future generations.
To finalize this article: staying in a pearl farm is for nature lovers, because you are next to the sea in a place where can protect marine species, ensuring a future for all. And this is something that I have learned while working at the “Sea of Cortez Pearl” farm in Guaymas.
And now we have come to the end of Jesus’ personal contribution to our Blog. I thank him for giving us his unique perspective. In future posts we will –once more- continue with the “El Mechudo” saga and more Mabe Pearl production, so keep visiting and do take the time to let me know your thoughts.
After a short absence due to our many obligations at the pearl farm and also at the Gem Show in Tucson, Arizona, we continue to share our experiences in the pearl production. And for us, an important part of our aquaculture process is based on Environmental Sustainability: the production of pearls with full-respect for Bacochibampo Bay’s ecosystems.
An It is because of this reason that -through the years- we have carried out an active process of re-stocking of several native species, whose populations have become endangered because of the fishing activities carried out by the locals. Among these species we can list the following: the “Black-lip pearl oyster”, the “Lion’s Paw Scallop”, the “Pen Shells” and the “Sea Cucumbers”.
However, our efforts have not been effectively transmitted to the general public because we basically have a one-man PR department (me!) and that I do spend most of my time working (as expected!) either in the production of pearl oysters and their pearls OR in the process of selling pearls and pearl jewelry; and the little time left from these occupations does not allow us to carry out an effective social communication effort although we do have our website up-&-running, as well as this blog (in two languages), a Facebook page and a Tweeter account.
But this year we have the fortune of having two young, bright and hardworking students helping us out at the farm. These students of the Guaymas Campus of ITSON (a local Public University) are about to graduate as Bachelor’s in Tourism. Thanks to an academic program of this important local institution, this young pair will help us in two very important areas: Sales and Research.
In the Sales area we have the invaluable assistance of Miss Veronica Machado and in the production area we have the strong support of Jesus Antonio Mendoza. Jesus Antonio -known by his nickname “El Tigre”- is helping in data collection and analyzing the important biological information for several small projects, including the “Sea Cucumbers Project” and the bio-cleaning of pearl-cages.
I have asked Jesus “El Tigre” Mendoza to write a bit about his experiences of working in our pearl farm, as their training focuses mainly on tourism and he has a very different way of viewing our pearl farming activities: this is an entirely “alien concept”. And this is his first contribution to the Blogosphere. I hope you will be able to see things through the eyes of this young man:
From a very young age I have had great admiration and respect for nature, especially for all the natural resources that exist in the region where I live; I have always admired the contrasting combination found between the mountains, the desert and the sea. Despite of living in a place where the climate is extreme and where there is almost no rain, I’m always surprised how plants and animals have adapting to survive in these arid lands, and how our people have learned to survive.
I live in a very popular city located in northwestern Mexico: the famous port of Guaymas, located in the state of Sonora, which is situated on the shores of the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California). This port’s economy is largely dependent on fishing, although in recent years has all fisheries have declined, due to over-exploitation, and thus this activity -in turn- came to be partially replaced by the maquiladora industry, but these do not provide the same quality of life –as fishing did- to our community.
It is until now that I have come to understand the great importance of the Sea of Cortez, not only for Guaymas but for the whole world: this sea has a unique biodiversity of marine species, all which are part of a large marine ecosystem on which we all depend for our survival. Species such as the vaquita marina, and the native species that are found at the pearl farm, such as the sea cucumbers, the many starfishes, the Cortez Angelfish, among others are just a part of a long list of flora and fauna that live in our waters.
The Gulf of California is also breeding place for beauty and rarity, the home of a Gem which is produced by a rarely-known pearl oyster species: the “Rainbow Lip Oyster”, an animal that produces pearls of intense and diverse colors: red, purple, blue, green and rainbow-like. Here at the farm they become high-end jewelry items, used primarily by women that visit this farm.
Soon –and thanks to the help of Veronica & Jesus- we will be finalizing details of our next “El Mechudo” video and we will have additional presentations from Jesus and Veronica.
We are currently preparing for our yearly Tucson Gem Show, so I’m using this opportunity to invite you to come and visit our booth at the GJX tent from January 31st to February 6th.
For us the Tucson Gem Show has been a tradition since we began exhibiting in 1994. We still remember our first exhibit at the “Rodeway Inn” under the banner of the G&LW, when most of the product we had to offer were our Mabe Pearls…fast forwarding to 2011 when our main sales at the GJX show consists of high-grade cultured loose pearls. So, this year marks our 18th straight year at the Tucson Gem Show…many stories & “adventures” to tell, as well as many fond memories.
Definitively: the Tucson Gem Show has remained as our only international gem show venue, and this is for many reasons: it is close to our headquarters (just a 6 hour drive), the climate is similar to ours, no jet lag, they have REAL Mexican food in Tucson, I’ve got family up there, the Mountains are beautiful…really much better suited to us than the shows we did in Guadalajara, Denver, Basel & Hong Kong. Then again: we always enjoy seeing the friends we’ve made over the years.
Below, you see a photo of our booth at the “Holidome” in September 1995. I am taking care of a plastic container while Sergio Farell unpacks other items, closely inspected by Manuel Nava and our friend Alejandro Rodríguez.
The next year we had the chance of exhibiting at a big flop called “Atrium” and this is our booth. In those days we sold a lot of Sterling Silver & Cortez Mabe Pearl jewelry. Not a good show for me –personally- since I had to rush back to Mexico to my grandmother Emma’s funeral.
And one friend we miss seeing at the Gem Show is Richard “Bo” Torrey, former editor of “Pearl World”. Lots of fond memories with Bo…here with Enrique Arizmendi.
Placing the memories behind, let us fast forward to 2012.
The Cortez Pearl @ Tucson
We can once more be found inside the GJX tent (across from the Tucson Convention Center) in booth #508. This year we have a couple of things to show our visitors, including a magnificent multi-colored Cortez Pearl necklace: the first one for the year 2012. This particular necklace (code 2012-A) was on the designing table since 2009 and our associate Manuel Nava found the necessary pearls to finalize it just this new year. Although it does not contain any pearls from this year’s harvest, we decided to give it this year’s blessings.
We will also have our usual assortment of loose Cortez Cultured Pearls, Mabe Pearls (including some blisters) and some Silver Jewelry items. So, come on over and check out our unique pearls, learn how difficult it is to grow these Fair Trade beauties and get all the information straight from the oyster’s mouth: we’ll be happy to share a moment with you.
Hope to see you at the Gem Show!