Transcript and photos follow.
Transcript (if you can’t understand my after-midnight monotone voice!):
There are many kinds of Filipinos. As diverse as the 7,107 islands, I, for all intents and purposes would like to divide them into two sorts: those that choose to live life in the fast-paced cities, and those that choose to embrace nature, dispersing themselves into the islands. I belong to the first sort, but once in a while, I am blessed to experience the natural bounty this mother country has to offer.
They say that the Philippine Islands true bounty is found beneath the surface, and to a symbolic extent, this holds true.
We are at the very center of marine biodiversity, having the highest number of species of corals in the entire world. We are home to the biggest of whales, sharks and other pelagic life, as well as to the smallest fish and critters that contribute to the circle of life.
A testament to the Philippines’ natural beauty is a unique organic gem which the entire world refers to as the s outh sea golden pearl.
We were lucky enough to be invited as guests for three days in a paradise called Flower Island in Palawan, as we were made to hear the emotional story of the pearl.
It takes about 5 years to produce a single south sea golden pearl from a very rare type of oyster. These mother and donor oysters were discovered, after much hardship and bred.
The process of producing a single pearl is broken down into precisely 323 steps at the farm in Palawan. You could say that all the golden pearls we see today came from that very first donor pair.
In the farm, over 375,000 oysters are cultured in large breeding tanks.
Of this, only 5-10% actually survive natural selection and become fit to produce pearls. In the wild, oysters’ survival rate is less than 0.01%, which is why it is extremely difficult to find pearls in the wild. The Philippines was the first to successfully culture the south sea golden pearl.
To ensure survival and proliferation, marine biologists have narrowed down 10 species of algae, out of the hundreds of thousands in the world, to be used by oysters as food for growth. The process is tedious as one mistake in the chain of 323 steps can affect the outcome of a pearl.
Additionally, a string of pearls can take an additional 5 more years to complete, as the exact size, luster and shape have to be matched with each pearl.
The farm employs about 2,500 natives — from pearl farmers to marine biologists, from around the country with an additional labor impact of another 2,500 people to sustain their livelihood. The farm sustains the livelihood of about 5,000 natives from the the islands.
These people are in it for the long run: It takes 5-7 years to train a competent pearl artisan and most of the people we met there have built their lives — and the lives of their children around the golden pearl.
There is something special about the series of islands that make up the farm. When asked to compare Palawan with other pearl farms around the world, visitors who were shooting a documentary told me that other pearl farms seem to treat pearl farming like any other day job. You come in. You work. You go home. In the Philippines, the culturing and harvesting of pearls is a lifestyle that involves the entire community. You work together. You eat together. You sleep together. Their lives are centered around the pearl. You aren’t an employee. You’re family. You’re in it for the long run. Every single employee has a direct line to the general manager and president.
In the three days that we spent there, we realized that the secret to the Philippine pearl is the beautiful community that binds the farmers together, not as employees but as family. Truly, the beauty of the Philippine south sea golden pearl goes beyond the pearl itself.