To Mark Newton of Russell Island, growing pearls in the waters of Moreton Island has always been a ‘pearler’ of an idea.
And now, his vision has taken its first step with the establishment of a spawning facility and a number of pearl gardens on Russell Island.
Mr Newton said he had just received a three-year permit from the agriculture and fisheries department to start an educational, environmental and research program towards the creation of pearls.
He said he was enlisting Russell Island residents to be a part of this program and grow the pearls on their pontoons in Canaipa Passage, a garden he said he would manage and would share some of the product with the pontoon owners.
He said as the permit was not for farming as yet, no sales could occur and the pearls would only be for personal use.
“This is just the beginning and a way of testing the waters, quite literally,” Mr Newton said.
Mr Newton has also started a hatchery for brood stock at his Russell Island property.
“I am limiting the stock, but it could go up to thousands,” he said.
This is where the seeding takes place and Mr Newton is using various seeding techniques to create a double pearl outcome from every oyster.
Mr Newton said he first thought of the idea in 1993 when opening oysters on the Tangalooma wrecks.
“On the fourth oyster, I found a pearl,” he said.
“It was only small, but I held onto that pearl for years. I always thought this was something tropical and I started to look into it further.”
Mr Newton said he would be growing akoya, Moreton Bay spotted pearl and leaf oysters.
“Of 100 oysters, you only get six perfect rounds,” he said.
“There will be some mortalities and other half sphere pearls.
“The odd shaped pearls are popular in Australia and the perfect rounds are sought in Japan and America.”
Mr Newton worked as a bombardier in the army artillery from 1980 to 1993 and worked at the Luscombe fish farm in Beenleigh to increase his knowledge of aqua culture.
“Pearling is a natural process. I love the idea that a natural gem can be created by this creature,” he said.
“I grew up on a dairy farm, so it’s pretty natural. All I am doing is seeding it, then sitting back and letting it grow,” he said.
In the meantime, the purpose of the gardens is environmental and training for others to learn the skill.
“I first looked at this in 2012 but there was a pollution problem,” Mr Newton said.
“Seeing the bay cleaned up is the first environmental step. And these gardens introduce a new and healthy project to the islands and to Moreton Bay.”
Mr Newton said, given the success of the gardens, he hoped in the future to establish pearl farms in Cainaipa Passage, and off Moreton and North Stradbroke islands.