Pearl farmers in the Abrolhos Islands see the future of tourism

From lobster fishing to pearl farming, Jane Liddon has lived an extraordinary life on the remote islands she calls home.

But she never imagined that her work and her story would be part of a tourist event held in her garden.

Jane moved to the Abrolhos Islands, 60 kilometers off the west coast of Australia, when she was a child from England.

She continued her father’s legacy of commercial crayfish fishing using jet boats, and 20 years ago branched out into pearl farming.

Her “boutique” pearl farm now produces pearls that are sold around the world, supported by Jane’s son, Jesse, and his wife, Michela, who designs jewelry.

Jane Liddon is a crayfish and pearler on the Abrolhos Islands. (ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Chris Lewis)

Their passion for family pearls and their joy in sharing the story of the rugged but beautiful environment where they are grown has seen them start a new chapter in the life of the Liddon family at Abrolhos.

“And Jesse and Michela run with it. I probably wouldn’t have done it, but it came to me.”

For the past two years, the Liddons have hosted a long lunch weekend for 60 people at a time on Post Office Island where they are based.

It is a new marketing strategy that brings the public to the pearl farm.

“Pearls and Plates is an event we’ve created over the past few years that combines all of our passions and loves for music, art, fine food, fine drink, and our pearls,” Jesse said.

“And it creates a nice feeling to see the people of the island discovering our family island and having a good time.”

Two men play guitar and a lady sings into a microphone
Musicians Trevalene and Ori Weiser and Jesse Liddon entertain guests at Pearls and Plates.(Rural ABC: Jo Prendergast)

For Jesse, island visitors are the way of the future, but in a “lighthearted” way.

“Maybe the [tourism] The change is moving away from the traditional type of fishing charters and moving more towards what we do which is high value and low impact,” he said.

tables set with glassware by the water
Tables ready for lunch in the Abrolhos Islands.(Rural ABC: Jo Prendergast)

Create tourism opportunities

The remote and pristine islands of Abrolhos are dotted with colorful shacks that serve as a base for lobster fishermen while they work the local waters.

Some tour operators take visitors to the islands, but the weather can make travel from the mainland difficult, and regulations currently do not allow guests to stay overnight on land.

Developing more tourism opportunities in Abrolhos has been on the WA government agenda for many years.

In 2017 it pledged to “develop a new whole-of-government approach to better protect the Abrolhos and create tourism opportunities” and later this year it is expected to release a new management plan for the Abrolhos, integrating tourism, conservation , aquaculture and fisheries. .

Consulting firm Agdots was contracted by the state government to meet with members of the Abrolhos community as part of its preparatory work to create a new management plan.

Although he found that most members of the commercial fishing industry supported marine tourism activities on the islands, this was also a point of contention due to fears that tourism could create risks’ for the fishing industry.

An aerial view of a sandy island surrounded by water
Sandy island in Abrolhos.(ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Chris Lewis)

For the past 19 years, Jay Cox has chartered eco-cruises to the Abrolhos, taking his guests on a five-day sail around the islands.

He said developing an ecotourism business had not been easy, largely due to opposition from some concerned about the prospect of people not involved in the fishing industry visiting the islands. .

Mr Cox hopes a new tourism framework will allow him to have a permanent base on the islands and access infrastructure such as piers and walking paths, things he says tour operators cannot currently developing.

“We carry everything on each trip, if [we] could have a base there with camps and things to house our personnel and moorings, and have the boat based there and ferry everyone in and out, that would be a lot easier. “

A man with a cap and a collared shirt.
Jay Cox hopes to have a permanent base on the islands for tourism.(ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Chris Lewis)

Mr Cox said that as tourism developed, the pristine nature of the islands needed to be preserved.

“Bait balls and birds feeding on them, mackerel and tuna coming in, there’s so much going on there.”

Basic services needed by tourists

Crayfish fisherman and pearl farmer Andrew Basile leads the corporate body of the Southern Group, one of four representative groups in the Abrolhos fishing industry.

He said tourism, fisheries and aquaculture could coexist and grow if managed properly.

“We need capabilities so that anyone on the reserve can make a phone call in an emergency.

“I would like to see dedicated salvage resources and an increase in public anchorage just for the guys who have been out there on their boats.”

Sunset over the water at the water with clouds in the sky
End of the day in the Abrolhos Islands.(Rural ABC: Jo Prendergast)