The Tears of the Ocean

The golden pearls of Myanmar are the hottest selling at the annual wholesale pearl market in Hong Kong each year. When preparing my reportage on the Moken, an elusive tribe in the Mergui Archipelago – 450 islands spread on 800 km – I needed a boat, a captain, a guide and a translator speaking Moken to find them and be able to connect with them.

An incredible piece of luck made me find on the internet U Myint Lwin, The owner of the Orient Pearl Company who helped me with a boat and a captain, U Tin Ng, speaking Moken. It was the start of a long friendship. I made two memorable trips to the Mergui Islands with U Tin Ng when the archipelago was forbidden to foreigners. He hid us in a temple in Myek, then under a tarp when the Navy, who was looking for us, boarded the public boat bringing us back from the archipelago.

U Myint Lwin and me had a common interest. I wanted to write a story on the Thai fishermen who destroy the livelihood of the Moken and the sea bottom which then takes 3 years to recover. The sound waves provoked by the blast kill the oysters. U Myint Lwin wanted me to succeed to protect his crop of oysters. He gave me all the means and support I needed.

The golden pearls of Myanmar are called the tears of the ocean because traditionally the Moken used to dive deep to retrieve them with the help of a pipe to breath the surface air. Many died.

Read the story of the Moken here

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The pearls are delicately extracted from the oysters which will be seeded again
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The magic jade waters of the Mergui
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Grading the pearls, checking for imperfections
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U Myint Lwin, The owner of the Orient Pearl Company who helped me with a boat and a captain speaking Moken
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Sorting the oysters ready to be put back at sea in cages
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The lines bearing the cages
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The Mergui Islands
Photo Christine Schindler
Washing the cages where the oysters grow
The pearls need pure calm waters to grow.
Oyster cages. Clear clean sea water are necessary to grow the oysters
The golden pearls of Myanmar. Tears of the ocean