08 – 12 May: Ngarumaoa Village, Raroia, Tuamotus – 16 02S 142 28W
More calm winds were forecast so we picked our way through the coral gardens in bright sunshine and returned to Ngarumaoa Village anchorage from Northern Raroia.
We were keen to snorkel the pass but honestly just didn’t think it would be do-able after our first hand rather lively experience of coming through on Balvenie. Reassured by Chris and Jessica on Silent Sun who are keen divers and photographers and dive the pass almost daily, we kitted ourselves out and along with the crews from Mezzaluna and L’avenir we headed for the pass about 30 minutes before slack low water.
The pass was still quite choppy and the waters turbulent when we arrived but safe enough to take the dinghies through. We headed to the outside (ocean side) of the pass, by the time we had put flippers and masks on the current settled and the pass lay down to a glassy pond.In we jumped, dinghy in tow behind us. First time through was rather leisurely, almost slow motion as we took in the splendour of the underwater world below us. Within minutes we were through into the lagoon so we jumped back in the dinghy and zoomed back out.
Second time there was more tide flooding in and we flew through on the surface. It was so much fun that when it ended we quickly got back into the dinghy and did one more run outside before the pass became too lively.
This time we felt like torpedoes being shot through the water, it was a real blast and we were back into the lagoon in record time. We then headed for the first red channel marker which sits atop a wonderful coral garden. The sharks were cruising around down in the depths but just below the surface thousands of colourful reef fish went about their daily business.Where do Black Pearls Come From?
Taking time out from snorkelling the pass on 3 consecutive days we took a tour to the local Pearl Farm. Pearl Farming is huge business in French Polynesia and although the number of farms has dramatically reduced in recent years it is still a big industry.
A snapshot overview of how it all works isn’t so easy as it is a much more lengthy and complicated process than I would have ever thought and it has given me quite an appreciation of why they cost so much.
Here’s what I understand – first they grow the oysters, it seems that these are generally out sourced. At a certain age (maybe 18 months) they are harvested, brought ashore, cleaned and then opened just a small amount and a man made round ball of natural shell (imported from Mississippi) is placed inside the mantle pocket.
Then the oysters are strung up and placed inside a protective netting so they won’t be eaten, loaded back into a boat and returned to the water for another 18 months. After this time they are harvested again, cleaned, reopened and checked to see how progress is going, any defective ones get taken out and a new white shell ball put in. Same thing happens after another 18 months, the pearls are growing all the time and some grow faster than others.
On the final harvest the shells are cleaned (these are sold for Mother of Pearl jewellery and ornaments), the pearls are removed and the muscle meat sold, the actual oyster meat is fed to the awaiting fish, I was told it is too gritty for eating.
So that's the life of a cultured pearl in the Tuamotus, I’m sure the odd detail is wrong cos I wasn’t taking notes!! One question I haven’t had answered is why the pearls here change colour to silvers, greys, greens and almost black.
And what are they worth? In this photo the small are USD50 each, the large USD500 each, the others anywhere in between. They are flown to a wholesaler in Tahiti then exported worldwide. The photo at the top with all the pearls was one days harvest, so the returns are huge but the outgoings and time spent before reaping the rewards are large.
Weather is Settling – Time to Nurdle West