Gemstones & Pearls:News
Pearls Be Dammed
The Three Gorges reservoir in China could affect freshwater pearl
Nobody can predict the environmental consequences of the Three Gorges
dam, the world's largest, now being constructed along the Yangtze River
in central China, but there's one certainty: China will never be the same
after the project is completed in 2009.
China is building the dam to reduce floods and generate some 84 billion
kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power annually. The dam will create a 375-mile-long
reservoir that will submerge nearby communities, forcing the relocation
of 1.2 million people and altering the local environment.
The Chinese freshwater pearl industry is centered far downstream, primarily
in shallow lakes and streams near the Shanghai delta. But some feel the
wetlands downstream will not be immune to the dam's impact.
"The water temperature will greatly fluctuate as the dam's gates
open and close," says Doris Shen of the International Rivers Network,
a group in Berkeley, CA, that is working to stop foreign funding of the
project. "It will change the sediment flow and cause a great deal of
water pollution. While there's no definite answer as to how it will affect
[industries] downstream, there's no way it can be positive."
One Hong Kong-based pearl manufacturer says she hopes the project will
stabilize the water level and reduce the summer flooding that plagues pearl
farmers. Shen worries, however, that if the dam's priority is to create
electricity, the necessary storing and releasing of water will worsen the
In the worst case, this could mean hard times ahead for pearl mussels,
which thrive on constant climate and water conditions. The mussels also
attach themselves to certain kinds of fish as they grow; the dam is expected
to wipe out 175 species of fish.
However, freshwater pearl farming is so widespread in China popping
up randomly in rice paddies, ponds and creeks that some feel the industry
can relocate. Any change also may reduce the overproduction that is keeping
prices low. Farmers are addressing this problem already by concentrating
on bigger, rounder pearls and cutting this year's harvest production nearly
Some also think China may seek an excuse to focus attention on akoya
farming along the southern coast. "The net profit realization is so
much greater per momme," says R.D. Torrey, editor of the newsletter
Pearl World."And the government still doesn't have control over
[the freshwater pearl] industry it wants."
by Stacey King
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.