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There was a fun beachcombing session at the end of a day’s full of meetings, and it was led by North Carolina Sea Grant marine educator Terri Kirby Hathaway. Here is one of Terri’s many resourceful explanations that evening that I put together on iMovie.
It’s probably old trivia for most of you, but here it is anyway!
Story and Photos by Benjamin Young Landis
JOHN THOMAS OSBORNE has some unfinished business. It’s a project he’s been working on since he was four.
Osborne, a shellfish aquaculture researcher, is opening new doors for North Carolina’s coastal economy. He and business partner Nelson Bullock are trying to grow jewel-quality, saltwater black pearls in state waters.
But these pearls aren’t from oysters. They are from pen shells, an enormous clam-like mollusk found in North Carolina.
From boyhood curiosity to lustrous reality, it’s a winding journey that’s taken Osborne across the world to Queensland, Australia and back to the Wilmington coast. A journey inspired by an innocent bout of mischief over two decades ago.
“Do Clams Produce Pearls?”
You could probably pick Tom Osborne out of any crowd. A frienzied mane of sandy-brown dreadlocks streaming from his head. Inquisitive eyes peering from a scraggly landscape of facial hair. Part Gorton’s fisherman, part Bob Marley.
But in 1984 up in Syracuse, N.Y., Osborne was just another little kid excited to get a card from grandma. He knew it probably had comics or trivia clippings from the papers, which his grandmother in Wilmington, N.C. would send to him every so often.
But this particular clipping planted a seed of inspiration in Osborne that would last for a lifetime.
“[There] was this little tiny thing that said ‘Do clams produce pearls?’” Osborne vividly recalls. “And the answer was ‘No, pearls come from oysters.’”
Osborne nagged his mother with more questions. She briefly explained to him that pearls come from seashells — like the ones they collected when the family lived in Florida and South Carolina — and that shellfish are living things that need water to be alive.
“I had all these shells in my playroom and I was like, alright!” Osborne says. He piled his shells in an old ice cream bucket and got a little Dixie cup to fill it up with water, one cup at a time from the bathroom sink.
Here’s the latest YouTube promo I created for North Carolina Sea Grant’s Coastwatch magazine. I took the photos and the film footage in November 2009 at Duke University’s Sarah Duke Gardens, during a community supported fisheries (CSF) delivery organized by Walking Fish CSF. I produced the clip in iMovie and wrote the script.
The clip promotes my feature story about the rise of CSFs, which you can read here.
And yes, I did say “sea mullet.” As @patriclane cheekily writes, “They don’t have mullets. They don’t have any hair style at all. I’m confused.”