HISTORY Pearls were the first gems discovered by man thousands of years ago. Since that time,people of many cultures have recognized the beauty and value of pearls. Pearls are the onlyorganic gems and require no processing to reveal their natural beauty. At first, people relied onthe chance finding of natural pearls in a variety of species of marine bivalves and freshwatermussels. Natural pearls are rare as perhaps maybe 1 in 2,000 pearl oysters contain a naturalpearl. Prompted by the high value and scarcity of natural pearls, Japanese researchersdeveloped methods that brought pearl production under the control of humans in the earlytwentieth century. These “cultured pearls” are generally larger and of a more consistent sizeand color than natural pearls. Producing cultured pearls depends on a surgical procedure calledgrafting, which entails surgically implanting an artificial nucleus (shell bead) into the tissue of apearl oyster. The oyster then secretes nacre around the nucleus. After several years of caring forthe oysters, the cultured pearls are harvested.The Philippines are a traditional source of natural pearls and shells. The Badjao peopleare well known for their diving skills and the search for rare natural pearls. The Philippine PearlOyster Industry is based primarily on the gold- or silver-lip pearl oyster, Pinctada maxima, alongwith the winged pearl oyster, Pteria penguin, for round, half-round and three-quarter shells andother shell products (Ladra, 1994; 112 Pearl oyster health management: a manual Ladra, 1997).Pearl export in the country peaked to P869 million in 2007 and was at P541.692 million as of2008. Pearl is the eight revenue generator in the fishery sector. Unfortunately, its capability tocontribute to economic growth in Region 9 and ARMM has been limited despite abundance ofpearl oysters in the area.At present, The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has come up with aPearl Farm Plan (PFP) designed to maintain the Philippines’ position as world’s Top 3 pearlsupplier with export that had peaked to P870 million. Most pearl farming activity is located onthe island of Palawan, a pristine and thriving ecosystem that offers pearl oysters the nutrients,water quality and shelter they need for healthy growth. Other pearl farms in the country are
found in Surigao, Samar, Sulu, Tawi Tawi, Sorsogon, and Cebu. While there are large players inthe culture of marine and freshwater pearl, BFAR is also encouraging small scale investment inthe sector. BFAR has targeted Sulu as a prime pearl supplier as pearl is under the investmentpriority plan of the Department of Trade and Industry and local government unit of Sulu. BASIC BIOLOGY AND ECOLOGY OF PEARL OYSTERSPearl oysters are members ofthe phylum Mollusca and belong tothe class Bivalvia. Bivalve mollusks aredistinguished by having two shells(two valves), a soft body with a smallfoot, a byssal gland and paired gills.