India to revive black pearl culture

Wednesday, 23 July 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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CHENNAI: Hoping to harvest a fortune, Indian marine scientists are working towards reviving the culture of rare black pearls off the coast of Tamil Nadu and the Andaman islands.

Half a century ago, Kurusadai island off Tamil Nadu on the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar was famous for its black pearls.

Traditional Tamil jewellery often included rare black pearls, which are no longer to be found. The natural oyster bed, overexploited and improperly harvested, has long since exhausted its potential. Only rarely is a black pearl naturally found in the waters these days.

So scientists are now stepping in to revive black pearl culture on India's shoreline. The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute in Kochi, Kerala, will be in charge of implementing the project.

Black pearl culture farms will be set up on a high security island in the Andamans. Rose island has been chosen for a trial project, institute director Mohan Joseph Modayil told students at the Centre for Advanced Study in Marine Biology at the Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu's Cudallore district, 500 km south of Chennai.

Modayil said only a few countries like Japan, Mexico, Australia and the French Polynesian islands produce black pearls. One perfect black pearl can fetch as much as $20,000 in the international market.

The marine institute is already implanting nearly 300 oysters a day for white pearl culture at its substations along the east and west coast.

It has an order from the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation -- which is implementing the Gulf of Mannar biodiversity project -- to supply 200,000 seed pearl oysters for its pearl culture project in the waters of the gulf and off the Andaman islands.

Modayil said the Andaman waters are especially suited to pearl culture and have thus been chosen to restart the black pearl project, which is expected to go commercial in five years' time.

Once infrastructure for commercial production is in place, he said, the industry would boost employment on the Tamil Nadu coast and the Andaman administration area.

Source: IANS
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