The Cozumel Pearl Farm
It was as though we’d left reality and entered an advertisement for Bacardi. A group of friends taking a leisurely boat trip across the turquoise water of the Caribbean. Anchoring and carrying a cooler full of drinks onto a private beach. Snorkeling out into the water, lounging on the sand, drinking and eating pineapple burgers. This was our excursion to the Cozumel Pearl Farm… just another day in paradise.
The only pearl farm operating in the Caribbean is found on the little-visited northern end of Cozumel. It’s a small enterprise for now, focused on sustainable and eco-friendly growth, with an eye toward tourism. Caught between the ocean and a mangrove forest, the farm is completely inaccessible by car.
Once we had arrived and enjoyed a cold beer with a stunning Caribbean view, we visited the small museum, housed in a palapa. The pearl farm was established in 2004… unlucky, since it was just a year later that Hurricane Wilma struck. The storm devastated Cozumel and utterly destroyed the small company. The winds were powerful enough to pick up the one-ton anchors which they’d moored deep in the water and throw them back onto shore, where they still sit today.
We toured the laboratory where the pearl implantation takes place. Until now, I’d never given pearl farming much thought. I had just assumed that the process involved cracking open a bunch of oysters until you find a pearl. But there’s a lot more to it than that. At just the right moment in an oyster’s life, you have to plant a round “seed” in its membrane, in order to grow a pearl which can be harvested years later. A naturally-occurring pearl is exceedingly rare, let alone a perfectly round one. Even with the implants, only a small percentage actually succeed.
We snorkeled out to the underwater farm, and saw the vertical cages in which the oysters are kept, protected by a life-sized underwater statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Next to her, there’s an artificial reef which after just a couple years is already home to a surprising amount of life. The brother and sister team who run the Cozumel Pearl Farm are clearly environmentally conscious; in fact, he’s an engineer by trade, and has designed a new style of anchor fitting which is far less damaging to coral than the industry standard. It’s an invention which is being deployed throughout Mexico.
This was one of the best days we’ve had in ages. The day-long tour costs $110 USD per person, which might seem expensive at first, but considering the beautiful boat rides there and back, the snorkeling, the lunch, the beer on the beach, the tour of the farm, and the chance to see an almost entirely unknown side of Cozumel, it’s a bargain. And besides, the farm itself is so small, with such incredible owners… you’ll know immediately that this is a project worth supporting.