For thousands of years, the world’s principal pearl oyster beds yielding natural saltwater pearls (also called oriental pearls) lay in the Persian Gulf, with lesser quantities in the Gulf of Manaar, along the coasts of India and Sri Lanka and the Red Sea.
After the discovery of the New World in the sixteenth century, the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea provided bountiful sources for an amazing array of pearls, so much so that Christopher Columbus named the New World “the land of Pearls.” Subsequent discovery of a group of islands in Central America, led the Europeans to the rich waters of what is now known as the Gulf of Panama, abundant with pearl-bearing oysters. The entire group of Islas de las Perlas is now called “Archipielago de las Perlas).
Presently, however, unfortunate changes in environmental conditions caused by over-fishing and industrial pollution have resulted in rapid depletion and destruction of the principal oyster beds of natural pearls. Almost all pearls sold in the market today are cultured pearls.
Both freshwater and saltwater pearls are cultivated in Japan and China. However, freshwater pearls are mainly nurtured in the freshwater rivers, lakes and ponds in China, whereas saltwater pearls are mostly found near the coasts of Japan, Australia and French Polynesia. Each area harbors particular pearl oysters:
• Gulf Pearl Oyster, Pinctada Radiata; common in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea.
• Black-lipped Oyster, Pinctada Margaritifera; Precious large oysters nurturing clusters of pearls found in the Persian Gulf, southwestern part of the Indian Ocean; Australia; Fiji; Tahiti; Myanmar; Baja California and the Gulf of Mexico.
• White-lipped Oyster or Gold-lipped oyster, Pinctada Maxima; Large oysters found in the saltwaters of Australia; Fiji; Tahiti; Myanmar; Philippines and Indonesia which produce sizeable South Sea cultured pearls. Its fruits range in color from silver white, cream, and pink to gold....
• Japanese Pearl Oyster or Akoya Pearl Oyster, Pinctada Fucata (also called Pinctada Imbricata) grown in the the Red Sea; Sri Lanka; Persian Gulf; Indian Ocean; Western Pacific Ocean; Australia; China.
• Shark Bay Pearl Oyster Pinctada Albina; indigenenous to Australia.
• Hyriopsis cumingi: Freshwater mussel found in the remote lakes and rivers in China, Scotland, Ireland, France, Austria, Germany and the Mississippi river in the U.S.A.
• Uniondae Hyriopsis Schlegeli: The freshwater mussel prevailing in China in an unusual array of colors including lavender, peach, plum, apricot, red pepper and celery.
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