Until the 1930s, pearling was the main industry in the Shark Bay Area. It was the pearling industry that kick-started the region’s growth in the 1850s and by the 1870s many small pearling settlements were scattered along the Shark Bay shoreline. After 70 years of trading, the depression finally caused the industry’s closure.
Thanks to Blue Lagoon Pearls, the industry has once again begun to thrive and is adding a new dimension to tourism in Shark Bay. Commencing in 1993, they are pioneers in the cultivation of Pinctada Albina and Pinctada Margaritifera (Black Lipped pearl shell) and were the first to grow coloured pearls from these species in WA. Both are endemic to the Shark Bay area.
Blue Lagoon Pearls run regular tours of their farm from the Monkey Mia jetty. Their laboratory, called Sea Lab 1, sits on a pontoon in Redcliff Bay just 20 minutes by boat from the resort. Year round, boatloads of inquisitive tourists visit the farm daily.
The one and a half hour tour begins with a ride on the Blue Lagoon Ferry from the jetty across the sparkling waters of the bay to the lab. While only a short trip, the marine life in the bay is abundant and it’s not uncommon to be accompanied by dolphins, sea snakes, rays and turtles.
Once there, a brief run down of the area’s history further explains the rise and fall then rise again of the local pearling industry. An entertaining demonstration of the cultivating, seeding and harvesting of the oysters follows.
In the wild a pearl is produced when an irritant becomes stuck inside the oyster. By producing nacre (a complex mixture of calcium and protein), the oyster begins coating the foreign object until a pearl is produced.
On a pearl farm, every single oyster must undergo a surgical seeding procedure. A nucleus is made from Mississippi mussel shell, implanted into the oyster and covered by a piece of the mantle (the part of the oyster that secretes mother of pearl nacre). An extremely delicate procedure, it takes great skill and many years to perfect. Hundreds of layers of nacre are needed to achieve a farm pearl’s beauty and lustre. Subsequently, each oyster must be treated with the utmost care as the pearl grows.
After the seeding demonstration those who are game are tempted to taste a piece of pearl meat – raw of course! Guests then wander freely over the pontoon and drool over the exquisite pearl jewellery in the souvenir shop. Pearls produced by Pinctada Margaritifera are relatively pricey, so to cater for everyone there is also a fun range of Albina pearl shell souvenirs.
This is the only tour of its kind in Western Australia and is available to guests and visitors at the Monkey Mia Resort. Bookings can be made through Pearl Harbour, (08) 9948 1325 or the Shark Bay Tourist Bureau, (08) 9948 1253.