Improving Livelihood of Communities - Oyster Farming for Jewellery Making in Rodrigues
Improving Livelihood of Communities - Oyster Farming for Jewellery Making in Rodrigues
Rodrigues Island is situated in the Indian Ocean. It hosts about 40,000 inhabitants and is surrounded by a shallow lagoon supporting several types of fishing. For years, more and more fishers have embarked in fishing activities, leading to a steady decline of target species and degradation of lagoon habitats.
SEA PEARL of Rodrigues Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Ltd has been manufacturing jewellery with mother of pearl (oysters) and other crafts from oysters gathered in the Rodrigues lagoon since 2011. The oyster used is Pinctada margaritifera, commonly known as the black-lip pearl oyster. This species is common in the Indo-Pacific region within tropical coral reefs and it occurs naturally in the lagoon of Rodrigues
The ability of P. margaritifera to produce pearls of jewel quality means that the species is a valuable economic resource to humans and there is consensus that the quality of pearls from P. margaritifera is the highest quality out of all the pearl oysters. The oysters are either harvested in the wild on coral reefs but can be farmed in mariculture. This species is also used for producing half-pearls, referred to locally as a Mabé. Similarly, to whole pearls, half-pearls can form naturally when a small particle enters the oyster and mother of pearl is deposited by the oyster coating the particle directly on the inner side of the shell itself. In the jewellery trade, nuclei consisting of a variety of ornamental shapes and sizes are now inserted manually into live pearl oysters and glued to the inner shell surface. Nuclei are generally cheaply made of plastic. Once returned into the water, oysters will coat the nuclei and after approximately 1 year, the oysters can be harvested, and half-pearls collected by cutting out the section, including the nucleus, where the mother of pearl has been deposited. These sections are then polished and mounted on jewellery.
In recent years, Rodrigues has seen a decline in its oyster population due to exploitation of the resource. It is therefore necessary to increase the population of oysters in the lagoon, both to stop their decline but also to provide a sustainable source of oysters to local communities who harvest this species.

The Cooperative has received green light from the Rodrigues Regional Assembly (RRA) to collect oysters, to collect their spat in-situ and to carry out pearl oyster farming. The permits are annexed to this document.
Preliminary work by marine consultant, Mr. Christophe Beclier, recruited on the project, has tentatively identified three promising sites to carry out the project. The sites are:
(1) Baladirou, an off-lagoon site situated in the North East at approximately 50 m from the shore with water depths ranging between 9 and 12 meters,
(2) Riviere Coco, an in-lagoon site situated in natural channel in the South West, close to Gombrani Island at approximately 400 m from the shore with water depths ranging between 6 and 10 meters,
(3) Ile aux Fous, an off-lagoon site situated in the North at approximately 350 from the shore with water depths ranging between 6 and 8.5 meters.
Using its own funds, Sea Pearl of Rodrigues Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Ltd began investing in this project at Ile aux Fous (North of Rodrigues) in July 2016 with the advice and assistance of Mr Christophe Beclier. Fifty (50) oysters were purchased from fishers and put in cages for farming and two (2) spat collecting structures totalling 34 collectors were manufactured and fixed at the site in October 2016. Spawning was observed in December 2016, with hundreds of microns- sized oyster eggs released in the sea. Some of them got fixed on the collectors and later when they grew, they were found to be around 10-20 per collector (a potential 340 to 680 oysters). During a recent visit to the pilot site these oysters were measured to be around 6 cm. However, it was also found that due to lack of protection several hundreds of them have been eaten away it is believed by fishes and sea turtles and approximately 100 oysters are still there to date.
In June-July 2017 a second spawning occurred and further eggs got fixed on the collectors. They are now around 2 cm in size and need to be counted. The 2016 first set of oysters should be ready for nuclei insertion around December 2017 and the first harvest for half pearl should be carried out by end 2018. Unfortunately, with limited funds, the Cooperative is facing several constraints: (i) the eggs are not protected and predators are eating them, (ii) seaweed is growing on oysters and stifling them (iii) plastic nets need to be purchased to protect the collectors, (iv) regular visits need to be carried out to ensure the safety and maintenance of the collectors and oysters by fishers, and (v) the process has to be scientifically monitored with records and pictures.
The Cooperative has recently received an allocation of Rs 60,000 from the RRA towards the pilot project. This will unfortunately not be sufficient to face all the constraints. The Cooperative is thus seeking funding from the GEF SGP UNDP (i) to support and increase the farming activities pertaining to the pilot site at Ile aux Fous which is currently underway, and (ii) to conduct bio-assessments to identify the best sites in terms of environmental conditions for setting up profitable pearl culture farming in Rodrigues. The results of this study will provide the information necessary for the definite selection of several sites for the establishment of small-scale sustainable pearl oyster farms.
The main stakeholders in the proposed project are fishers, who are currently free-diving to the pilot site, but during the project they will be formally trained in SCUBA diving to do their work; and community group consisting mostly of unskilled people, with low levels of education, who will be trained for the activities.
The proposed project will enable Sea Pearl of Rodrigues Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Ltd to increase its production of half-pearls and to contribute to create sustainable jobs in Rodrigues. It is in line with the Country Programme Strategy for Mauritius under SGP OP6 strategic initiatives on Community landscape/seascape conservation, which aims at maintaining globally significant biodiversity and the ecosystem goods and services that it provides to society by promoting sustainable small-scale aquaculture/mariculture projects. It also supports the national and local Government aims of strengthening management of the lagoon, reducing fishing pressure in the lagoon and promoting green and blue economies, and job creation.
Tourists from Reunion Island, France and Mauritius are the main customers for half-pearl and other mother of pearl based jewellery. Half-pearls are higher demanded by visiting tourists than Rodriguans, because of their elevated prices. We propose to reduce prices for Rodriguans to allow them to buy the half-pearls. Half-pearl production has proven to be an economically viable and profitable venture for the cooperative, as shown in the profit and loss statement in Annex 4. An intensive campaign will be used to market and brand the product to create an image and increase awareness of the jewellery. Mabé production and sales will create green jobs for unskilled workers such as fishers, divers, unemployed women and school leavers.
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Project Snapshot

Area Of Work:
International Waters
Grant Amount:
US$ 50,000.00
Co-Financing Cash:
US$ 29,741.22
Co-Financing in-Kind:
US$ 20,925.89
Project Number:
Currently under execution

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Mrs. Pamela Bapoo-Dundoo
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