Mother Of Pearl Ethical Use- Exploring the "Sustainability" Component of "Ethical"

"Ethical" and "Sustainable"…The Pros and Cons of Using Buzz Words.

With those 2 words becoming mainstream, their relevance is being diluted. Some of your audience, the more skeptical, will simply walk away. Others will scrutinize your claim to the highest degree, forcing you to back yourself up 100%, or lose all credibility…

So What is The Real Meaning?

Ethical: In any commercial or trading environment, it means that the rights and the condition of workers are respected across the entire supply chain. There is no official, internationally recognized label for ethical trade. That is why buying brands have started creating their own in-house auditing systems, initially to protect their own reputation worldwide.

Because social norms and trade related laws vary so much from third world to so called developed countries, the world relies on buyers, investigative journalism, and humanitarian organizations to support ethical trading.

"Ethical" is often used instead of "Sustainable": E.G. " Ethical harvesting".

Sustainable: The Wikipedia definition: Sustainability is a social goal for people to co-exist on Earth over a long time. The Collins and Cambridge Dictionaries define "sustainable" as avoiding irreversible depletion of the natural resource, and destruction of its natural habitat or environment.

In this post we will focus more on sustainability, because we are dealing with a precious natural resource: Mother of Pearl. Here are the 3 areas we'll explore.


1. Biodiversity: The Survival of all species, including us, depends on Bio diversity.

2. Sustainable Mother of Pearl Trading: Commercial traders can be the guardians of Mother of Pearl.

3. Today, Sustainable Practice Must Include Re-Generation. Growing entire ecosystems instead of just protecting the resource.


1. Biodiversity.

Why it matters.

Tales From The Scientific Corner.

Because we have a special interest in shells, this example should be fascinating to us: Scientists can still make discoveries about the earth's biological evolution from "Micro Snails scraped From The Sidewalk". Their "interest is to understand how organisms are related to one another" (Daniel Lahr-Zoologist).

In turn, knowing those relationships could "hold the key to fighting the next pandemic", as "plants and animals you collect are destined to be used for centuries to describe past and present biodiversity and make new discoveries in biomedicine and beyond." (Jocelyn Collela and Bryan Mc Lean - Evolutionary Biologists).

Scientific studies that support the idea of "Biodiversity having a crucial role to play in resilience" are also becoming mainstream. With so many independent scientists converging to the same conclusion, their credibility is unshakable.

In his "Our Planet" Series, David Attenborough describes the devastating effects of proliferating ant colonies, wiping out entire tree canopies in the Amazon forest. Just when their progression seems unstoppable, a fungus intervenes, killing a large percentage of the ants, and preventing their destructive domination. In the documentary, Attenborough's caption is" Nature Cannot Allow One Species to Become Fully Dominant In Their Own Environment"...quite a chilling statement if your community was badly affected by COVID.

At our end, maintaining bio diversity includes not only protecting but also fostering the growth of species like Mother of Pearl in their natural environment (not just farms), as discussed further.

2. Sustainable Mother of Pearl Trading.

We now have a good understanding of how the species are doing. That is partly thanks to commercial use being monitored and controlled.

The Crucial Role of Commercial Operators.

The term "Sustainable" is most relevant if your industry relies on the use of natural resources, in our case the abalone and mother of pearl. A 100% honest approach to sustainability is crucial to our own survival. Proof is, as discussed in our post on "The 11th Abalone Symposium - Auckland-New Zealand-2023-", the world looks up to New Zealand for having so far averted the collapse of our Paua fisheries, and despite the best Paua being sourced from their natural environment. Tightly Monitored Quota Management Systems are the key here. Unfortunately, the rest of the world was not so "lucky", with several international abalone fisheries known to have collapsed.

A proactive approach as already seen commercial quota owners engaging in selective harvesting, also discussed in a previous post. This method maps out harvested areas, allowing enough time for the population to recover before the next harvest. Populating new habitats with "breeding size shells" is also being trialed with the goal to foster multiple grounds for NZ Abalone Paua. Such initiatives are commendable, but they will only gain strength by becoming part of the system, not just voluntary.

Inlaid Paua Eyes in New Zealand Greenstone
Art Piece from Grania Kincaid- www.jaslin.co.nz

The use of natural materials versus plastic has also been raised as an advantage of the mother of pearl industry, effectively recycling and getting great value out of a byproduct of the seafood industry. Important note: natural products should not be expected to fully replace synthetic materials...Dangerous slope! Hopefully, if done without threatening the species, commercial exploitation can be an effective way to keep the spotlight on the wellbeing of their ecosystems.

Some operators have stopped selling Abalone or Mother of Pearl, claiming that it is the only way to be 100% ethical (in this case, ethical meaning sustainable). Not being involved at all has obvious limitations, cancelling any positive influence you could have on the industry.

The Crucial Role of "Ethical" Buying.

Where there's a market, there will be sellers. The most powerful guardians of the resource can be buyers. Big luxury Brands like D'Ior , Cartier & Louis Vuitton are adopting draconian measures to ensure socio economical, and environmental sustainability of the products sourced. As long as their main motivation is not only to protect their brand reputation, it should contribute to the overall longevity of natural resources.

"Business to customer" operators are also experiencing scrutiny from their individual clients, often prepared to vote with their feet, based on ethical concerns. This approach to buying naturally affects Business to Business relationships, holding wholesalers to account.

3. Today, Sustainable Practice Must Include Re-Generation.

Even the least affected abalone and mother of pearl fisheries have been depleted to an extent. Our responsibility is not only to avoid short term collapse of the species, but also engaging in regeneration.

The Extra Mile: Beyond Protection of The Resource.

For the sake of their own livelihoods, commercial operators must be "ethical guardians" of their natural product. But as pressures come from all directions to affect the future of species via major changes and threats on their ecosystems, industries may need to go one step further. For our New Zealand Abalone Paua, no matter how much we do to avoid overfishing, warming temperatures and ocean acidification are a terminal threat, possibly in our lifetime.

Whatever we do, bio diversity remains vital to our own economical survival. Ethical and sustainable economies are no longer sufficient. we must now invest in regeneration.

The example of Patagonia is an inspiration. The company became known as one of the early innovators, producing synthetic clothing exclusively with recycled plastics. Today Their "Patagonia Provisions Project" is an ocean ecosystem regenerative farming concept, now developed into a worldwide franchise, and a profitable one. Watch the movie here.

A "Stretch Goal", or The Only Option?

It would be great to see the seafood and the "byproduct industries" collaborate to invest in regeneration of ecosystems that ultimately feed their commercial entities. Before it happens It must be regarded as a sizeable opportunity by all the stakeholders, an opportunity to survive, and to thrive.

In Short, Ethical use of mother of pearl matters, not only for our own commercial survival through survival of the species, but also as a contributor to bio diversity that is key to our physical resilience...

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