Cart ( 0 )
Solution — Based
Pearls of Wisdom from Tahiti, Kamoka

Kamoka Pearl is paving the way for the pearl industry by experimenting with creative sustainable practices.

Alicja Hagopian, Fall 2022

300 miles off the coast of French Polynesia on a small atoll called Ahe, the Humberts’ family farm (Kamoka Pearl) is paving the way for the pearl industry by experimenting with creative sustainable practices.

Marine pearl farming is the process of implanting, nurturing, harvesting and processing pearls which can range in quality, size, colour, and brilliance. According to a recent study, the marine pearl industry spans over 30 countries, the largest producers being Japan, China and French Polynesia (Tahiti). Since the 1980s pearl cultivation has become an important industry in French Polynesia— second only to tourism— and so much of the local economy is reliant on pearl output. Specific to the region is the black Tahitian pearl (Pinctada margaritifera) which is a dark luminous pearl containing shades of pink, blue, green and silver.

While pearl farming is not one of the most polluting global industries, the pearl generation process is complex and lengthy which involves significant economic risk. As a result many farmers have felt pressure to increase production and cut costs in a way which is unsustainable to the natural environment and their businesses in the long run. It is hard to point blame in any specific direction as pearl farming has existed for decades, though industrialisation has accelerated the scale of harmful techniques with the emergence of new machinery. One example of these practices is the use of high-pressure power hoses to clean the oyster and keep them healthy, which has become widespread for its efficiency and ease. However, high-pressure powerhosing can break other invertebrates into smaller units (like sea mats, soft corals and anemones) which can easily overwhelm fragile lagoon ecosystems.

When the Humbert family first sailed to the Tahitian atoll of Ahe in the 70s it quickly felt like home, and they put down roots in the local community. Patrick Humbert and son Loic Humbert started Kamoka Pearl in 1991, with son Josh joining when he came back from college. Being seen as a ‘sustainable brand’ was not the priority: respecting the environment was the logical conclusion, not a choice to be made. As Josh, the current director of Kamoka Pearl, puts it, “for me, being sustainable and doing the right thing are one and the same. I can’t imagine doing it any other way”. By creating a pearl farm from scratch, the Humberts had the opportunity to do things their own way. They could not imagine damaging the natural environment around Ahe which they had grown to love as a family, which is why they set out to address the negative effects they observed from power washing.

What really sets Kamoka Pearl apart is the genuine care and inquisitiveness they show in their approach to pearl farming and their impact on the natural environment. They have consistently challenged the status quo and pushed boundaries, setting new standards for the pearl industry as a whole. The Humberts have not been afraid to experiment: Josh says that they even tried ‘washing’ the oysters in a cement mixer, which did not end up working out in the long term. Eventually, the team at Kamoka began to hang the shells off the dock of their atoll, a simple solution which has proven to be incredibly effective. The schools of fish naturally come to clean the oyster shells which leads to healthier pearls, and the process as a whole leads to more thriving local biodiversity. The latter is helped by the fact that the Humberts do not fish around their farm — something which seems obvious to maintain marine life, but which most pearl farmers inevitably do. In a similar vein Kamoka is run using sustainable resources: solar power, wind power, and rainwater.

Kamoka’s pearls are unlike any you have seen before, a metallic rainbow ranging from deep violet grey to a powdered blue-pink. The iridescence of their darker tones is truly alluring, and no two pearls look the same. It is as if all the shades of the ocean have been captured in each orb. Don’t believe us? Have a look at their TikTok @kamoka_pearl, where the colours of the pearls really come alive in the Tahitian light. You can also watch how the Humberts extract pearls from the shell, without harming the organism or causing permanent damage.

The Humberts first learned the techniques of pearl seeding from two Japanese graft technicians when they were still a trade secret kept from most locals in French Polynesia. Since then their greatest teacher has been nature; in fact, academics have come from all over to study Kamoka’s techniques and learn from the Humberts firsthand. Kamoka Pearl has been featured in National Geographic, and scientist Dr Kent Carpenter studied the local marine life to find that their pearl farming methods had a positive effect on the local fish population. Kamoka was also the first company in French Polynesia to use mother-of-pearl nuclei which lessens the excessive exploitation of freshwater mussel nuclei. The French Polynesian Pearl Farming Board determined that this material produces three times more Grade A pearls than alternative methods: further proof that taking the time to nurture the natural environment can be beneficial for everyone involved. Ultimately, Josh Humbert wants Kamoka Pearl to be a model for pearl farmers everywhere, proving that “by working in a mindful way with the ecosystem, you can actually have it all”.