The world's biggest giant clam is NOT Tridacna Gigas!
by Volker Bassen
(Diani Beach, Kenya)
T. Gigantea. Very rare and not easy to get to!
A Giant clam history..
Here a brief description about giant clams and some valuable information about the emerging giant clam (also called Tridacna Gigas) industry in China. The Tridacna craft industry in China is fairly new. It all started in 2000 when a Taiwanese artist came to the Island of HaiNan (also called the Hawaii of China) and taught the Islanders to make sculptures, jewelry and other artifacts using giant clams. Last year (2014) the Tridacna craft market reached an estimated 600 million U$ turnover in China. Prices are quadrupling every 2-3 years as demand outdo available stock and the main industry stakeholders are now hoarding clams as Tridacnas have become a huge collectors item succeeding Jade which is found in abundance compared to Tridacna Gigas clams. In the 70ties and 80ties the giant clam was sought after as a delicacy and ten of thousands were harvested every year for human consumption. This lead to the giant clam almost becoming extinct! The few wild specimens left are now heavily protected under CITES appendix 1. The Tridacna Gigas clam is believed to be the 9th pearl of Buddha and thought to bring prosperity/good fortune and health to the owners as well as serving as a status symbol, pretty much the same as ivory. Both the giant clam and the elephants are now facing extinction because of this belief..
In Kenya the Tridacna Gigantea (a predecessor to Tridacna Gigas) only exist as fossils as they became extinct during the later Pleistocene period around 180.000 years ago when sea levels suddenly increased about 20 meters. The algae that lives in symbiosis with the clam didn't get enough sunlight, hence the clam literally starved to death because it gets up to 70% from its food delivered by the algae. There are no records of any giant clam ever having been found in the sea along the East African coast, they are all but gone..
The Tridacna Gigantea was much larger (heavier) than T. Gigas, about the double weight and it is distinctly different as it's "teeth" are somewhat rounder compared to T. Gigas. The largest T. Gigas in the world was found off the Japanese Island of Okinawa in 1956 and is currently being displayed at the Natural History Museum of Dublin, weighing 300 kg. The biggest clam in my collection weighs a staggering 612 Kg, almost twice!
It needs to be pointed out that the T. Gigantea is much rarer, only 10 to 15 clams are found every month in Kenya while thousands of T. Gigas are still found in the South China Sea every month, leftovers from the meat-harvesting during the 70ies and 80ties. As such, prices are expected to supersede T. Gigas. A double T. Gigas can cost as much as 6-10000U$ while a fossil T. Gigantea was sold for 18000£ recently (28000U$)
and a smaller size fossil T. Gigantea clam (60kg) was recently sold by Bonhams auction house for 4000 U$. http://m.bonhams.com/auctions/19371/lot/3005/
It needs to be pointed out that
these clams are considerable more sought after and expensive in China compared to the US although they are becoming more and more popular as collectors item both in the US and Europe. One client from Austria bought 20 T. Gigantea from us in 2012 and sold them on to China last year, tripling his money, a good investment as these clams continue to increase in value.
Some single T. Gigas clam shell carvings sell in excess of 20.000 U$ (see photos below)
I have been collecting these fossil clams since 1999 and over the years I have managed to collect some amazing clams.
My dream was to one day find a pearl in one of these clams, not an easy task as they have to be hacked out of the surrounding limestone, not to mention; they are full of limestone on the inside as well. I know of two occasions where the worker actually destroyed pearls, mistaking them for "coral rock"! It hurst seeing a pearl broken into pieces, trust me..
In July 2015 my perseverance paid off as we finally found a cluster pearl (2pearls next to each other!) inside one of the biggest clams ever found! Roughly the size of an apple, it is without doubt one of the largest T. Gigantea pearls ever found, as far as I know; it's the only one ever found! Considering that the world's largest pearl (which was found inside a T. Gigas) "Pearl of Allah" is valued at 50 million U$ it will be interesting to have it upraised.
The work involved finding T. Gigantea, removing them, clean and polish them takes up to 2 month but a worker gets a years salary (sometimes more depending on the quality of the clam) when he finds one. It all started off as a community project and over the years we have invested millions of Ksh into some of the poorest communities along the coastline, empowering them financially.
According to Chinese beliefs that Tridacnas bring prosperity, good fortune and health, I must concur as everyone involved with T. Gigantea has had a life-changing experience (for the better) I think that more than a billion Chinese can't be wrong, do you?
Photo1. A lucky man! After month of hard work a double giant clam has been found. After selling this clam to us the man was able to buy a cow, a total of 300 cows are now roaming around Waa location and providing much needed milk for their children. Our charity is also supporting an orphanage and local schools. "No one can do everything but everyone can do something"
Photo 2. The BIGGEST clam in the world! Was found in Tiwi area in Kenya in 2010. It weighs a staggering 612 Kg!!
Photo 3. Tridacna craft/art in Hainan was exceeding 600 million U$ in 2014.
Photo 4. Tridacna art and jewelry is in high demand. Our fossil clams offer an excellent alternative to ivory and will hopefully stop poaching of our elephants as well as the harvesting of live T. Gigas from the sea!