Laurent Cartier, a PhD candidate in environmental sciences at the University of Basel in Switzerland, inspects Tahitian black pearls at Kamoka Pearl, a small family-run pearl oyster farm in French Polynesia. The farm is on the palm-fringed atoll Ahe, in the Tuamotu Archipelago about 300 miles (480 kilometers) northeast of Tahiti.
Cartier (no relation to the international jeweler and store) studies the environmental impacts of the pearl industry, with a particular interest in how raising pearls can be made more eco-friendly.
Cartier launched www.sustainablepearls.org with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Saleem Ali, director of the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining at the University of Queensland in Australia; and Julie Nash, a PhD candidate in natural resources at the University of Vermont. The group is planning a conference on sustainable pearls and is investigating developing a certification program that would signal to consumers that pearls are raised in a responsible way.
Cartier has been helping Kamoka Pearl develop and test environmental best practices. In one innovation, the farm eschews powerwashing of oysters because that common practice can cause nutrient loading in the water. Instead, Kamoka moves pearl oysters to shallow water periodically, where wild fish pick them clean.
—Brian Clark Howard