What is New Zealand Abalone Paua?

An Ocean Treasure, Unique to New Zealand

Isn't it fascinating that the world's most colourful species of Abalone " Haliotis Iris", should be found in the coldest and most turbulent coastal sea waters of Aotearoa New Zealand?

The species belongs to the much larger family of sea snails, "Marine Gastropod Mollusks" and its existence goes back to the dawn days of new Zealand's natural history, some 252 million years ago...

New Zealand Abalone Paua Shell in The Wild

Having survived through major climatic changes and natural upheavals on the planet, Abalone Paua species should be considered as one of the most resilient species of all times!

It is little known that New Zealand has 2 other species of abalone, "Haliotis Australis", or yellow foot Paua, and "Haliotis Virginea", both much smaller, less colourful, and less common than Haliotis Iris.

Deep, Colourful Iridescence in A Thin Layer

The Paua grows its shell by secreting successive layers of calcium carbonate that reflect light in a rainbow style display. The mix of turquoise blue, green, pink and purple varies greatly from one shell to the next. Layers are separated by a black film of protein that resembles contour lines on a topographic map. Paua grows 1mm to 2mm per month, depending on availability of food, temperature variants and water quality.

Whole Polished Abalone Shell

The Chathams and Stewart Islands have the most vividly coloured Paua Shell. The colours only show on the inside of the shell or once the outside has been cleaned and polished by the sea, or by hand!

Raw, Natural Abalone Paua Shell

Is Paua a "Mother Of Pearl"?

Yes it is! Pearls from paua shells are quite rare and have their own unique beauty. Although very different from the Australian White Pearl Oyster and the French Polynesia Black Pearl Oyster (Both Bivalve Shell Species), Paua also secretes calcium carbonate to stop the discomfort from an intrusive grain of sand.

New Zealand Abalone (Paua) Wild Pearl
Paua Shell Pearls

Paua Has Its Own Symposium!

So important are abalone species worldwide, the spotlight is on them annually with a fully dedicated "Abalone Symposium". The 11th edition was held in Auckland New Zealand in February 2023. Focus this year was on "fisheries management, physiology and ecology, aquaculture technology, processing and marketing of abalone". (Source: Official website if the International Abalone Symposium)

New Zealand Paua Fisheries Are Environmentally Safe.

As we discussed in our March Symposium Update, New Zealand is admired overseas for the good health of its Paua fisheries, thanks to a strict quota management system for commercial operators, and good monitoring of recreational catch: here, strict limits apply once again in size ( Minimum 12.5cm for Black Foot Paua ) and numbers (from 8 to 10 specimens per person per day, depending on regions).

Apart from sound management, "The weather takes care of it!", Southerners explain: many parts of the coast line are battered by regular swells that can put Paua out of reach for weeks on end.

Paua in Maori Culture

A highly praised natural resource (Taonga) for its meat, Paua shell is also used in Maori art: iridescent eyes and inlaid Paua pieces provide uniquely Aotearoa New Zealand accents.

Maori Art with Whole Paua Shells
Polished Paua Shell and Paua Shell Pieces Gathered in Maori Art

Paua Shell: A Versatile Resource

Highly sought after for its meat in China and Southeast Asia, abalone paua has been processed in new Zealand since the early days and the shell itself could have been wasted. Luckily, its sheer beauty captivated the imagination of designers and makers. When buying products made with paua, you are increasing its value and protecting it from becoming waste.

The top four "semi-Processed" products derived from raw paua shell are:

1. Shell Veneer Sheets, used in a great variety of interior decor, furniture inlay, arts and craft creations, fashion jewellery, and more.

Abalone Paua Veneer Sheet
Iridescent Layers and Contour Lines

2. Tumbled Shell Pieces, also know as Paua Gems, for jewelry, arts and crafts, and terrazzo chips for polished concrete surfaces.

Abalone Pieces Necklace
Paua Gems On Necklace

3. Paua Shell Blanks, cut and polished directly from the shell, used for fine jewelry, watch dials, and craft artisan creations.

Luxury Watch with Blue Abalone Paua Blanks
Luxury Watch With Paua Shell Blanks

4. Whole Polished Paua shells, a great item to use as soft furnishing at home and impress your friends!

We Have showcased more of the Innovative Uses of Paua Shell Products in our blog posts and on our showcase page. There is no doubt that Paua Shell will continue to provide unique embellishments for many creative industries in their search of the ultimate natural touch!

Tell us about your project...

Your project is unique, so we provide personalised advice before delivering worldwide from our studio in New Zealand.

Luméa products are made from natural shell with a variety of factors that affect form and function. If you can’t find the right product from within our range, then talk to us about our custom design service. We love to experiment and collaborate with our partners to create unique solutions.


Tel: +64 3 234 9065

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