Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Does Mexico have the world’s rarest pearl?

Nestled in a wide bay off the northern end of Cozumel Island is the Caribbean’s only operational pearl farm, the Cozumel Pearl Farm. Warm, crystal-clear Mexican Caribbean water meets a pristine, long, sugary sand beach. The ideal place for cultivating the delicate Atlantic Pearl Oyster, Pinctata radiata. 

Previously at risk of extinction in the region, the Cozumel Pearl Farm’s conservation efforts are bringing it back from the brink. At this same time, these rare oysters are producing some of the rarest pearls in the world. 

The delicate Atlantic Pearl Oyster, Pinctata radiata.

At a mere 18 years old, the pearl farm is in its infancy by industry standards. It takes years to grow a pearl, so production is limited. This makes the beautiful Cozumel pearl exceptional. A rare treasure of the ocean found nowhere else on Earth. 

The Pearls

Each pearl is hand-crafted into an exquisite piece of jewelry. Of course, you can buy a pearl on its own or have it made into a one-of-a-kind creation by a very talented Mexican artisan.

Cozumel Pearl Farm believes in supporting Mexican entrepreneurs and artisans. Building a strong partnership, each piece is unique so they sell out fast. If you are interested in purchasing a pearl, or piece of jewelry, contact the farm to check availability. 

Conservation 

Conservation efforts and sustainability are top priorities of Cozumel Pearl Farm. Alongside working with nature to establish almost zero environmental impact. The Pearl Farm’s core ethos is working in harmony with nature. In fact, the entire operation is self-sufficient, using solar, wind, and wave power to provide their needs. 

The pearl farm works in harmony with nature. Pollution is minimal.

By doing this, the farm actively educates people on how to reduce environmental impact and damage. Each structure is built on stilts made from recycled telephone poles. The large palapa, where you enjoy a beach barbeque lunch when visiting, is made from sustainably sourced local materials. All water needed for the operation of the farm is collected in rainwater tanks. 

Conservation efforts involve work on both land and sea. For over a decade, the farm has been working with the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) to restore the balance of plant growth. They are also working to eradicate an invasive pine species on Cozumel island itself. 

With Guadalupe’s Blessing

Aside from CONANP, the oysters have another protector as well. The Holy Virgin Guadalupe. 

A serene sunken statue of the Holy Virgin Guadalupe watches over the pearls. She protects them and the pearl farm from natural disasters, poachers, and harm. 

A sunken statue of the virgin Guadalupe protects the farmers in their work.

After Hurricane Wilma’s devastation in 2005, the owners — the Camaño family — learned their lesson. So, the clever Francisco Camaño (Pancho) invented an ingenious new anchoring system. Offering greater support for the oyster’s growing towers. They attach to the ocean floor. Which reduces the impact of Caribbean hurricanes. 

Guadalupe’s protection and this anchoring system kept the pearls safe. Strong tropical storms and unpredictable weather wreak havoc each year from July to November.

It also helps nearby coral from the bleaching effects of climate change. Another conservation effort is an artificial reef for coral gardening. With the added benefit of providing local economic benefits. A diverse range of beautiful marine biodiversity is drawn to this location, making it a popular attraction for divers and snorkelers. 

Touring the Pearl Farm

Yes, I went on a tour of the Cozumel Pearl Farm and can honestly say it was one the best day trips of my life. Being a pearl girl, I found learning all about pearls very fascinating. Information included how they are graded and the difference between a good pearl and a great one. Luster, shape, surface, size and color were all factors in grading quality pearls.

After touring the lab, we’d had burgers at a beach barbecue for lunch. They were delicious. They have veggie burgers too. As a vegetarian, I valued the thoughtful consideration. 

Then came my favourite part of the day. A speed snorkel!

It’s the most wonderful experience. Peaceful and the perfect way to see the aquatic part of the pearl farm. They pull you behind the boat at a slow pace. There is a long line to hang onto. You float above the pearls serenely sitting undisturbed on the ocean floor. There is a long line to hang onto, and you don’t have to be a strong swimmer.

Afterwards, you can snorkel on a pristine reef. It’s full of colorful tropical fish and teeming with marine life. I dived down and said hola to Guadalupe. I made sure to blow her a kiss of thanks for looking after the pearls before I continued my snorkel. Every color of the rainbow of fish was there. The best was hanging out with a stunning Queen Angelfish for a while. 

Swaying sea fans and anemones gently danced. Lobsters peeked out from under coral ledges. None of the wildlife seemed to be in a hurry or scared of humans, knowing they are safe in this protected area. A sweet little spotted yellow ray glided along the bottom. It displayed a true island vibe and seemed to be in no hurry. 

This was a truly unique experience. A true Mexican treasure. Because the Cozumel Pearl Farm is the only pearl farm that uses the Atlantic Pearl Oyster, they may just be the rarest pearl in the world. 

Mexico Correspondent for International Living, Bel is an experienced writer, author, photographer and videographer with 500+ articles published both in print and across digital platforms. Living in the Mexican Caribbean for over 7 years now she’s in love with Mexico and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon.

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