Cultured pearls are the Pacific region’s most valuable and promising aquaculture commodity. They are an ideal trade and export commodity for island communities as pearls are high in value whilst being light-weight and non-perishable. Pearl culture is compatible with traditional lifestyles and provides opportunities for income generation at a number of levels. The industry is environmentally benign and helps to preserve marine environments by imparting a value and utilisation to these areas.
The Tongan pearl farming industry has chosen to differentiate itself from the other round pearl producing Pacific nations by producing the mabé, or “half” pearl. The mabé pearl is Tonga’s only locally produced pearl and is grown in the “winged pearl oyster” (Pteria penguin). Mabé pearl production requires lower technical inputs and lower investment, with a lower level of associated financial risk and shorter production time. Furthermore, the entire production and crafting process can be completed using only local technicians and artisans.
In recognition of such potential benefits, the Australian Government has been working with the Kingdom of Tonga to develop a pearl farming industry. This work is part of an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) project being undertaken in collaboration with the Tongan Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries. Currently Tonga’s mabé pearl farming industry is still in its initial development stage, however the realisation of a number of different initiatives and outcomes in May 2016 confirms that the industry is consolidating and maturing. Some of the most significant of these developments include:
These excellent results are testament to the collaboration and dedicated efforts of the staff of the Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Commerce and Labour, the Tongan National Pearl Farmer’s Association, New Zealand Volunteer Services Abroad, Australian Volunteers for International Development, the University of the Sunshine Coast and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. It is clear that a number of different aspects of pearl industry development are now coming together to build an expanding, well-organised, profitable and sustainable pearl farming industry for the people of Tonga.
Issued by the: Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries