Ever wonder where oysters live? Yes, the ocean, but there is much more to the story of an oyster’s origin than meets the eye. Today, nearly 95 percent of the pearls at market are cultured – that is to say, they are harvested from farms dotting across the globe. This is both a sustainable and earth-conscious method of meeting the growing demand for the most lustrous of gems. The remaining 5 percent are legacy and natural pearls, or pearls that have come from wild oysters. This is a highly regulated business, as the trade in oysters is near-universally restricted. And thank goodness for that, as regulation helps preserve the habitat of this cornerstone marine species. So where are these wild oysters if they’re not nestled peacefully on a farm? Dive into the deep with Spey.
An oyster’s primary protection against the elements is its hard outer shell, but even then, complete insulation is illusory. An oyster is subject to the whims of water temperature, chemistry and salinity, nutrient and oxygen density, and the health of the environment at large. Like canaries in a coal mine, at the first onset of disease or pollution entire fields of oysters will be at risk. This is because an oyster filters the water for food – helping to cleanse and purify the water, but also opening itself up to any hazards that may be present. Because of this, oysters demand a pristine, bio-diverse and vigorous ecosystem for growth. One might imagine how, given the scale of human impact on the environment, populations of oysters are diminishing.
What remains are scattered colonies of oysters, many of which maintain breeding populations that are unable to preserve population density. Where once an oyster colony’s habitat stretched hundreds, if not thousands of miles, now is reduced to a few small hectares. Natural protected inlets, like bays, lagoons or channels between islands, are prime homes for oysters. The pebbly seabed allows spat (baby oysters) to attach and grow into maturity, while the shallower, warm waters provide a rich abundance of nutrients and nourishment. Events like runoff from deforestation and red tide may wreak havoc on an oyster population. Exotic tropical locations are not the only affected areas. Waters as far apart as the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mexico once housed thriving oyster colonies. Even our namesake River Spey is clinging to a diminishing population of mollusks.
It’s important then to recognize the valuable impact oysters make on the environment at large, and to take steps for their preservation and rejuvenation. Not only do we owe the lustrous collection of Spey pearl jewels to the mighty oyster, we owe the health of the oceans and in turn, the health of the planet. The pearling industry is helping to conserve the remaining vital colonies of wild oysters, and Spey is proud to champion for their protection. It’s a good day to wear pearls – and hug an oyster.