Selecting a site for a pearl oyster farm
Selecting a good farm site is an important first step towards producing good pearls. Where the farm is located can determine whether the operation is biologically and economically feasible. The site affects how well pearl oysters grow, the quality of the pearls, how safe the farm is from theft or vandalism and how much it costs to operate the farm. Choosing an appropriate site from the beginning is also important because it is difficult to move a farm once it is established.
What to look for when choosing a farm site
- The presence of pearl oysters : The presence of adult pearl oysters or spat indicates that the environment is a good one for pearl oysters. However, do not eliminate a location because of its lack of oysters, in some areas, no pearl oysters will be found because they have been removed, or are naturally rare, but these areas can still be good farm sites if they have the characteristics mentioned below.
- Good water quality : Pearl oysters prefer clean, clear water far away from sources of contamination such as chemicals, oil, sewage or other pollution. Areas near large villages or towns will usually have some pollution, so farms should be located as far away as possible, or up-current from the source of pollution. Do not locate your farm near the mouth of a river or other sources of freshwater since sudden changes in salinity can be harmful. Areas with rough water where sand and silt are stirred up should also be avoided since pearl oysters have trouble feeding in cloudy water. A general rule is that a site with thriving corals will be a good site for pearl oysters.
- A depth of 75-120 ft (22-36 m) and away from reef areas : If the farm is located in an area shallower than 75 ft (22 m), there will not be room to hang farm lines. Locating a farm within 75 ft (22 m) of reef areas may also result in predation by mollusk-eating fishes, rays and octopi that find shelter in the reef. A maximum depth of 120 ft (36 m) is suggested since diving to greater depths is dangerous. Setting secure anchor lines is easiest when the diver can tie off the anchor line to rocky areas on the bottom, which cannot be safely done in depths over 120 ft (36 m). Also, when seeded pearl oysters are dropped or fall off the line, they must be retrieved, a dangerous or impossible task in a very deep area.
- A slight water current : A current is beneficial, since water exchange provides a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to the pearl oysters. Water exchange also helps prevent a build-up of waste products beneath the farm that could cause problems with water quality. It is important to observe both surface and bottom currents at a site, since in some areas the surface current may appear to be adequate, but the bottom current may be much less. Waste products can then accumulate underneath the farm. Areas with fast currents or rough water, however, are difficult to work in and possibly harmful to the pearl oysters. Therefore, only slight currents are tolerable. Areas with stagnant water or rotting seaweed present are also not good sites.
- A site that can be watched and protected : Pearl oysters are valuable and theft is common. Locating the farm within sight of your house will help prevent this. Additionally, boats or fishing activity can damage lines, so look for areas with little traffic or activity. By avoiding conflicts with other users of the area, your farm will be safer from damage and theft.
- A site where the farm lines or other farm structures can be securely anchored. There are two ways to secure the main line and anchor lines. One way is to tie them to rocks or coral heads that occur naturally on the farm site; the other is to use artificial anchors like concrete blocks or sand screws. However, tying off the lines to rocky areas is by far the easier and more secure method.
- A healthy reef : It is important to maintain the condition of coral reef areas. Pearl oysters grow best when their environment is healthy. Therefore, take care not to break or damage corals when setting up the farm – the health of your farm depends on the health of the reef. Although it is usually most convenient to tie main lines and anchor lines to rock or coral areas, avoid disturbing corals if possible. Never tie lines onto large, protruding coral heads. Coral heads make poor anchoring points since they are fragile and break easily. Pick areas where the lines can be tied to the solid base of the reef structure and where little coral will be broken. Coral will rapidly grow around the ends of the lines tied to it and over racks anchored on the bottom. Bare, rocky areas with minimal coral cover are the best spots on which to tie lines. Also take care not to break the coral by standing on it, by allowing farm lines to drop over the reef, or anchoring boats to coral areas. Establish a mooring buoy near your farm instead of anchoring directly on the coral, or tie the boat to the farm line itself.
Article source: The Basic Methods of Pearl Farming, Author: A Layman’s ManualMaria Haws, Ph.D. (Director, Pearl Research and Training Program, Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hilo, HI 96720 USA, Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture, Publication No. 127, March 2002)
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