Friday, May 14, 2010

N.C. and the 'un-curse' of the black pearls

One of the best publications around is Coastwatch, which is published by North Carolina Sea Grant. In the latest issue is an article by Benjamin Young Landis (photo credit as well) which takes a look at an emerging North Carolina aquaculture industry: black pearls.

The article follows John Thomas Osbourne, "a shellfish aquaculture researcher, is opening new doors for North Carolina's coastal economy. He and business partner Nelson Bullock are trying to grow jewel-quality, saltwater black pearls in state waters.

But these pearls aren't from oysters. They are from pen shells, an enormous clam-like mollusk found in North Carolina.

From boyhood curiosity to lustrous reality, it's a winding journey that's taken Osborne across the world to Queensland, Australia and back to the Wilmington coast. A journey inspired by an innocent bout of mischief over two decades ago.

Here's some more from the article about pearls:

As a trade term, "pearl" alone can only denote a naturally formed pearl, caused by whatever random incidence in the life of the animal. Understandably, the chance of finding a perfectly round pearl in nature is statistically small — hence the higher prices they command over cultured pearls.

But the ultimate value of a pearl is in the eye of the beholder, Osborne says. In a time when some fisheries and coastal trades are struggling, he hopes their black pearls will evoke a sense of pride for North Carolina's coastal communities and its visitors.

"Fundamentally, it's shiny stuff. But jewelry is a gift you give to people that's permanent. It generally commemorates an event, a thought or a place. That's where that value is. Then if you've got people proud to be in North Carolina, people who are proud to be buying something that's American, they're going to see that."

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