Atlantic Pearl Oyster

Part of the Pearls exhibition.

Pinctada imbricata

In 1492, when Christopher Columbus sought a new route to the Orient, pearls headed the list of goods that the Spanish monarchs desired. Though he never reached Asia, Columbus did land upon the Venezuelan coast in 1498, passing the pearl-rich islands of Margarita and Cubagua. Over the next century, millions of natural pearls from the region's Atlantic Pearl Oysters were shipped to Europe to satisfy the craze for these gems, bringing the Atlantic Pearl Oyster close to extinction. Although the pearl oyster beds have never fully recovered, there have been some commercial ventures in the last century.