Dispatches from Tahiti Cyclone Oli Strikes

Imagine driving down the freeway at 100 mph, then sticking your head out the window. The sound is deafening, you have to squint, straining your neck against the force of the wind. This is what Tahitian pearl farmers went through recently—but without the car—with the passage of Cyclone Oli in Polynesian waters.

Though the cyclone passed to the south of Tahiti, pearl farms as far as 300 miles north were badly hit. …

For the few farmers still producing pearls in our islands, the destruction could only be discouraging. Others like us who were lucky enough to find themselves on the right side of the island may find a silver lining in these stormy times. When massive amounts of clean, well oxygenated ocean pushes into a lagoon, the old, silt-laden water gets pushed out. The result is often an improvement in pearl quality as well as a triggering, through thermic shock, of spawning on a massive scale. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed and our eyes on the weather charts.

Meanwhile, the Tahitian government has stepped up to help farmers, but the blow of the storm may very well be the nail in the coffin for many embattled pearlers. After two years of local prices being lower than the cost of production, many are at their breaking point. In the year to come, we will very likely see the supply capacity of Tahitian pearls tested.—Josh Humbert, Kamoka Pearls, Tahiti