| || Thousands of pristine islands, including Buccaneer Archipelago, emerge from the waters off the jagged, eroded coasts of northwestern Australia. The waters of the Timor Sea that surround these islands have remained relatively untouched by pollution, which has allowed fragile species such as the Pinctada maxima pearl oyster to develop. Harvested in their natural setting, the sea floor, these mollusks are exploited for the production of cultured pearls. Australian pearls, 80% of which come from the west of the country, are twice as large (averaging a half-inch, or 12 mm, in diameter) and, according to experts, finer in appearance than those of Japan, which pioneered the pearl industry at the turn of the 20th century and remains the world’s leading producer. Since 1992, the spectacular rise of pearl industry—from a world average of one ton before 1993 to more than 9 tons a year in 2005—has led a major drop in prices for South Sea pearls. Pruction of South Sea pearls increases 2.6 times over six years and price were cut by 2.3. Today, Australian pearlfarmers, that represent half the market value, are debating whether it is worth increasing production even further, at the risk of losing their reputation for quality and of destabilizing a market where supply outweights demand.
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