Friday, October 28, 2016

Very little run-off or human interference

As the helicopter touches down at Willie Creek just outside Broome, the turquoise waters are doing their level best to subsume the mangroves. A few hours later, there will just be the occasional pool amongst muddy flats, with the waterline a long way out.

By the standards of north-western Australia, Willie Creek is relatively close to civilisation. It is a land of ferocious red dirt and rocks that have changed so little in millions of years that they still have discernible dinosaur footprints in them.

One thing that does change, however, is the gigantic tides. And these are very popular with one particular oyster – the Pinctada maxima. The huge fluctuations wash in and wash out a fabulous banquet of plankton to filter-feed on. And the Indian Ocean here is about as clean as seawater gets. The Kimberley region is barely inhabited, and it’s far too rugged for crop farming, so there’s very little run-off or human interference.

It is the Pinctada maxima that lures in many of the humans who do make it up this way. "Each oyster is valued at AUS$10,000 [Dh27,800] over its lifetime," says Willie Creek’s guide as she opens one up to demonstrate what goes on inside.

These oysters are not for eating – although the adductor muscle is regarded as an aphrodisiac in China and can sell for up to $650 (Dh1,835) a kilogram. Their true value comes from what can be grown inside – the biggest and most valuable pearls in the world.

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