How foolish it is to kill Sea creatures for Ornaments


Maneka Gandhi


(Bihar Times) A vegan friend recently bought a watch whose dark face had a purple sheen. When I informed her that it was made of mother of pearl, she promptly exchanged it.

It is ironic to consider how mother of pearl, devised for the mollusk's protection , has instead become the reason for this sea-creature's widescale destruction.

There are thousands of varieties of mollusks. They are sea creatures of the most interesting kind. Found in a dizzying range of colours and sizes, all of them have shells as protective covering, some of them are one legged and hop, some lie attached to stones , some move in tandem with the waves. All of them are live creatures that breathe , eat , mate and feel pain. Some of them are unlucky enough to produce a substance called nacre and this ensures that they are killed in their millions to produce “ organic jewellery” decorative items made from a living creature. In order to get this nacre, the creature inside the shell is ripped out with a knife and its pieces are sold as fertilizer. The inside of the shell is then treated with far more respect. It is carefully taken out and made into pretty baubles and boxes.

Nacre is a smooth iridescent substance secreted by mollusks and continuously deposited onto the inner surface of their shells to coat and protect their bodies. The layers of nacre smooth the shell surface and help defend the soft tissues of the mollusk’s skin against parasites, bacterial infection and reduce irritation from organic material which may drift into the shell while it is slightly open for feeding or respiration. This iridescent layer is commonly known as mother of pearl. Irregularities often form in the mother of pearl as a result of irritation. If the irritation is extensive, the mollusk will form a large bump, prized in the human world as a pearl. Nacre is called "mother of pearl" because it is literally the "mother", or creator of pearls.

Mother of pearl is made of plates of aragonite, a material secreted by the mollusk which contains calcium carbonate and conchiolin, a natural protein. These plates are brittle, so the mollusk secretes silk between the plates making them capable of withstanding hard use. The shimmer of Mother of pearl comes from the transparent crystals of calcium carbonate. When they catch the light, these crystals, like a prism, emit iridescent hues.

Australia cultures white Mother of Pearl shells from the pinctada maxima oyster. Black Mother of Pearl shells (Pinctada margaritifera oyster ) are cultured in the waters round Tahiti and Cook Island. From China and Japan to Scotland, Venezuela and California, from Bahrain to Indonesia , millions of helpless creatures lost their lives in order to become cheap bracelets. Mother of pearl is obtained by killing oysters, freshwater mussels and abalones. Also widely used for pearl buttons during the 20th century, is the shell of the great green turban snail. In East Asia, the technique of decorating objects with mother of pearl began during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in China. In Korea, known as Najeon Chilgi , the art of making boxes by inlaying them with mother of pearl and then glazing them with lacquer became a sign of status around the arrival of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392.

Mother of pearl is used for buttons, cheap jewellery, tiles, laminates, inlays and bric a brac, watch faces, knives, guns ,musical instruments. At the beginning of the 19th century almost 1,500 tonnes of the world’s oyster shell production was used for the button-making industry. Mother of pearl are cut into shapes and laminated to a ceramic tile or marble base. Mother of pearl sheets are used on interior floors, exterior and interior walls, countertops, doors and ceilings.

Millions of cultured pearls are made by killing millions of non pearl mollusks, cutting up the nacre and introducing it manually into the skin of an oyster, enough to irritate it into producing a pearl. The oyster is then killed after the pearl is made. The commercial harvest of freshwater mussels is a multi-million dollar industry in North America where shells are harvested and exported to Asia where they are made into nuclei for insertion into oysters to create cultured pearls. Most lagoons have no natural nacreous mussels and oysters, pearl mollusks left so they are being grown artificially in the same way as pigs /cows/goats are grown for meat.

While buttons are now on the decline , new uses are being found for mother of pearl. Recent experiments are being done to find out if mother of pearl can replace bones. Cosmetic skin creams extract the flesh from the nacreous mollusks, grind and dry it and sell it as moisturizers.

What is the justification of torturing and killing magnificent sea creatures for foolish ornaments? There is nothing attractive about objects created from mother of pearl. It is the mother of all insensitivity and poor taste to put dried pus and skin, which is all that nacre, is on show.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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