Before you can start growing pearls, you must first start by growing the oysters themselves. This process begins with a procedure known as "spat collection". At a certain time of the year, usually in spring or fall (just when the water temperature changes from cold to warm or viceversa) all adult pearl oysters (from both the natural populations and those grown at the pearl farm) will spawn into the rich, nutrient laden waters of the Sea of Cortez. The oyster's sperm will fertilize the eggs...and nature's cycle will proceed just as it has been doing it since time immemorial: billions of microscopic pearl oyster larvae will become a part of the zoo plankton, feeding upon even smaller phytoplankton (microscopic one-celled algae/bacteria), until they are ready to settle and begin an "oyster like" life...basically attached to a rock or coral.
At just the appropriate moment, hundreds of "spat collectors" are thrown into the waters of the bay. These will stay in the water column for up to two full months, collecting the "spat" or "baby pearl oysters". How can this happen? Our spat collectors basically consist of lines of rope to which hundreds of plastic mesh bags -filled up with discarded fishing net- are attached to. Why are these so attractive to the baby oysters? Here in the Gulf of California, Rainbow Lipped pearl oysters are actively seeking any of the common species of fan corals (family Gorgonidae) on which they loved to settle. The structure of a mesh bag, and that of a fan coral are very similar... thus we can easily fool the baby oysters into thinking they are attaching to a "Giant Coral Reef". Our technique is so effective, that we can catch somewhere between 1 thousand to 8 thousand baby pearl oysters per bag. That's a World Record!!!
Anyway, this is not over yet. We have to allow the "spat" to grow to a size visible to the naked eye (it takes anywhere from 1 to 2 months for this to happen) and then we retrieve the spat collectors. Each bag is then meticulously hand and eye inspected for baby oysters as small as 1 mm. At the end of the day, all the little oysters are counted and put inside special rearing cages.
Finally, the aquaculture operation begins...