Pearl Exports! Arno’s Really Lucrative Selling Point
(Included in the RRE 50th anniversary publication)
Mweitdrik Island, Arno Atoll, hosts a major fisheries – related business, but
you won’t see much activity above sea level on this island.
But the Robert Reimers Enterprises black lip pearl oyster farm’s harvest of pearl
with a sale value of about $40,000 in early 2000 is evidence that there is more
than meets the eye at Mweitdrik Island.
Approaching this tiny island in the northwestern corner of Arno - at the tip of
the smallest of Arno’s three lagoon - one sees dozens of plastic floats dotting
the lagoon. The floats make nice resting spots for local birds, but they also hold
up nets loaded with oysters in various stages of development.
The RRE pearl farm , which has been in operation since the mid- 1990’s is beginning
to move out of the pilot, research stage and into stepped – up production. RRE invested
in the pearl farm after RRE ‘s CEO Ramsey Reimers met with pearl oyster growers
during a Marshall Islands trade mission to Australia and visited pearl farms in
Australia, seeing the viability of this industry .
RRE has invested in pearls fully aware that it is an expensive, pains taking process
to develop pearl oysters into a profitable business. The success of other South
Pacific islands, combined with the studies and pilot phase growing of pearl oysters
in the marshals that demonstrate pearl potential in the atoll environment of the
Marshall Island, have convinced RRE that this will be a key business initiative
for the future.
After more than two years working on Mweitdrik , pearl farm manager Frankie Pedro
thinks he’s finally getting a handle on the pulse of his pearl oyster brood, including
resolving some of the problems with predators that were causing a high mortality
rate . “you can’t just say that because it works else where that it’s going to work
here,” he said in mid- 2000. Experts often come in and advise the farm to handle
the oysters a certain way based on experience in other parts of the Pacific. But
Pedro thinks that local variations in water temperature, marine predators and environmental
factors unique to Arno have to be taken into account instead of following a “blueprint”
that someone has devised in another country.
Mweitdrik itself is nicely set up, with a kitchen and thatched roof hut next door
for eating. There are a couple of workshops, and several small bungalows for housing
Pedro and his family, and for visitors to the island. Small groups of visitors can
easily be accommodated on Arno in two island – style, screened bungalows. Catchment
tanks, toilets and showers – usually in short supply on the remote outer island
are available. Solar panels provide lights and power for the HF radio and cellular
phone that allows Pedro to communicate easily with Majuro.
“Frankie deserves most of the credit for what’s happening at the pearl farm”, said
RRE's chief financial officer Peter Fuchs.
It takes about two years to grow a black lip oyster to the size where it produces
a saleable pearl. The key for the Arno farm, said Pedro , is increasing its stock
and number of spawning times a year so that it can be harvesting several times each
year as the oyster mature. RRE plants to increase its oyster stock at Arno to at
least 100,000. Once production reaches this level, RRE will look to Jaluit for possible
expansion of the business. The company’s Majuro based aquaculture facility is also
supporting the Arno pearl farm with spawning and grow of the oysters.
The pearl farm has also attracted the attention of overseas investors who have come
out to visit the Arno pearl and see operation first hand.