Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pollution's Impact on an American Icon


(ARA) - Disappearing plant species, endangered wildlife and adverse health effects for humans - all grab headlines whenever talk turns to the impact pollution has on our world. But pollution also affects production of pearls, the gem American pop culture has made an icon of exemplary womanhood.

From June Cleaver to Marge Simpson, a perfect strand of pearls has come to represent the essence of feminine perfection in American culture. The bestowing of an heirloom strand from mother to daughter is a treasured rite of passage in many families. Yet pollution's effect on the mollusks that produce pearls may mean fewer pearls - and higher prices - in the future.

Pearl production and a pristine environment are tightly linked. Pearl-bearing mollusks are filter-feeders. To get their microscopic food, they filter as much as 106 gallons of seawater a day. Filter-feeding makes the mollusks extremely sensitive to pollutants in the water.

Pearl-bearing mollusks are also very sensitive to water temperature. Mollusks that produce pearls evolved over millions of years to live in very specific environments. Although those that live in temperate latitudes are accustomed to seasonal fluctuations in water temperature, an unusual rise in summer can kill them. Pearl-bearing mollusks that live in tropical latitudes can survive only within a very narrow range of water temperature. A small rise at any time of year can kill them.

People Can and Do Help

The mollusks' sensitivity to temperature increases and pollutants make people who are dependent on the mollusks' productivity acutely aware of environmental factors. Pearl farmers -- people who grow cultured pearls -- have a stake in mollusk health and productivity. That stake makes pearl farmers good stewards of the environment. If water pollution or temperature increases kill their mollusks, pearl farmers lose their livelihood.

Jewelmer, a pearl-farming company in the Philippines, has been especially active in promoting environmental preservation. The company has strongly lobbied the Philippine government to outlaw cyanide and dynamite fishing in the islands. Those fishing techniques produce big, easy catches, but they're environmentally destructive, and they adversely affect the mollusks on the pearl farms.

"Jewelmer produces some of the finest golden South Sea cultured pearls," says Jeremy Shepherd of, Inc., a leading online pearl-seller, "and the company has been among the most aggressive in protecting the pearl-farming environment."

Forum for Pearl Lovers is a pearl forum that has more than 3,000 members, many of whom contribute posts about pearls every day. Since pearls are the members' passion and reason for participating in the forum, they are naturally concerned with pollution's and global warming's effects on pearl culture. Without protecting the delicate environment mollusks need to produce pearls, members and other pearl lovers around the world would lose their favorite gems.

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