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French veterinarian Jean-Marie Domard
Photo: Poe Rava magazine
The Birth of Tahitian Black Pearl Production
Research excerpted from Poe Rava magazine by Patrick Seurot
Newly graduated 29-year-old French veterinarian Jean-Marie Domard learned in 1956 that the French Overseas Ministry was looking for a specialist in the repopulation of mother-of-pearl lagoons for Tahiti. He applied and was accepted and started making plans to take his family to French Polynesia with the objective of ensuring the survival of pearl oysters. He also had a dream: to successfully culture the pearls of Tahiti.
In preparation for his arrival in mid-July 1957, Domard took biology courses with a concentration in oyster farming and learned to dive at the National Marine Diving School of Saint-Mandrier in Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer, France. He financed a trip to Japan as well to familiarize himself with the breeding of pearl oysters. In January 1957, he set off on his journey by boat, visiting various pearl farms along the way, including one in Ago Bay, Japan. Another new connection gifted Domard a few hundred nuclei made from different species of freshwater mollusks from Mississippi.
Once in French Polynesia, Domard carried out a complete audit of the mother-of-pearl beds in 1958–59. After ensuring that the pearl beds were saved from extinction, Domard pursued conversations about culturing with the local government, a Japanese pearl company, and the Bank of Indochina. All agreed that the conditions in French Polynesia were right for a culturing endeavor, and the bank director outlined a quantity of 5,000 oysters for the experiments.
Finally, a Japanese technician named Churoku Muroi, who was employed in Australia by Nippo Pearl Co., was chosen to conduct the grafting operation. Domard chose the Hikueru atoll, located 400 miles from Tahiti, as the culturing location for the quality and richness of the lagoon environment and the health of its pearl oysters. After the operation, the oysters were placed in baskets deposited at a depth of approximately 1 meter, on the edge of the beach, where they were stored for a month. Subsequently, the oysters were transplanted to an underwater plateau 25 meters deep and placed on racks. As was expected in any pearling endeavor, a percentage of mortality was noted, and in the first five months, 269 out of 827 oysters operated on (32.5%) were lost.
Read the entire history of the Tahitian black pearl in 1961–2021, The 60 Years of the Pearl of Tahiti by Patrick Seurot, available soon. Click here to check availability.