USC’s pearl science creates special gift for royals

USC science is behind a very special pearl gift created for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan, that will presented to them in Tonga tomorrow.

Two pieces crafted from mabé pearls grown by University of the Sunshine Coast researchers will be presented to the travelling royals by the Prime Minister of Tonga, in recognition of important pearl research that is boosting livelihoods in the island country.

Senior project scientist Max Wingfield from USC’s Tropical Aquaculture Research group said the jewellery had been crafted from “triple A grade” pearls produced in Tonga as part of a study by PhD student Sophie Gordon to improve the quality of pearls.

“These are the very best pearls produced from that study and have been crafted to a standard worth of being won by royals,” Mr Wingfield said.

The research is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research as part of a broader project to help provide livelihood opportunities to people in Tonga, Fiji and Vietnam through the pearl industry.

So far, in Tonga, the project has helped launch 17 pearl farms which are large family or community operations. This number is expected to grow to 26 by the end of next year.

Mr Wingfield said the pearl industry was having a positive effect in the remote islands where employment opportunities were limited.

“There are a number of benefits to growing mabé pearls: it’s a fast-growing oyster, the seeding is much simpler than for a round pearl and so can be done by local people with minimal training, and the oysters themselves are filter feeders so they help to protect the pristine status of the reefs,” Mr Wingfield said.

“The whole process can be done in island locations such as Tonga at a fairly low cost and the industry is less competitive and therefore easier for a new country to establish a market presence.

“We work with farmers, but we also work with post-harvest workers, artisans and training to lift the whole value of the industry and maximise the benefits that flow to the community.”

The pearls were crafted into jewellery by Tongan artisans, brothers Leonati and Andrew Fakatava.

“Obviously the royals get inundated with gifts but these are beautiful pieces and it would be wonderful if they do enjoy them,” Mr Wingfield said.

The wristband was created for the Duke and the pendant for the duchess.

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