Three members of the mollusc order Haliotidae are found only in the seas around New Zealand. These are the prized Paua that draw people like a magnet because of the uniqueness of their color, and the iridescence of the shell they produce in these South Pacific waters.
The three species of Paua are:
Rainbow PauaHaliotis iris - the most common form, found in greater numbers in our southern waters - they prefer and grow best in colder water.
The colors of the shell are laid down in waves and bands of blue, green, and to a lesser extent purple and pink. The black lines on the shell are layers of protein laid down between the calcium, and it is the crystal layers of calcium that refract light and produce the wonderful colors for which the Paua is renowned.
Paua feed on algae and seaweed. At low-water mark, only young Paua are likely to be found clinging to the underside of rocks.
To protect this young resource, the law provides that 5" is the mimimum size of Paua that may be gathered. And there are strict quotas.
As the Paua mature, they move out into deeper waters, where they can be found on the sea bed. They may not be gathered using scuba diving equipment.
The mollusc is black and has a powerful, muscular foot.
Pink (Silver) PauaHaliotis australis - this is a smaller-sized animal with an all-over pinkish color and a rather dimpled shell surface.
It has 3 distinct ridges between the row of breathing holes and the edge of the shell, and these can be seen in the photo on the left. The Rainbow Paua has a smoother surface altogether.
The inside is a pale pink/silvery color, in contrast to the brightness of the Rainbow Paua, but it still shows light blue and green casts as the direction of light on the shell surface changes.
Pink or Silver Paua is found in the same locations as Rainbow Paua, but in fewer numbers. The mollusc is yellowish.
Virgin PauaHaliotis virginea - Smaller and rarer, these have a brilliant shell coloring (often red). The inside of the shell is bright silver.
They are rarely seen because they are very shy and only venture out from under rocks at night. The mollusc is a dirty white color.
New Zealand has strict laws on the collection of Paua by both commercial and recreational fishermen and penalties for breaching these laws are high. Since the 1980's, a number of commercial hatcheries have been set up to satisfy overseas markets for the seafood and pearls, and fortunately these have also increased the supply of shell to the art and jewellery markets.
Paua are of the same family as the Abalone of North America, but their coloring is different and unique. Though they are good to eat, it is the enduring brilliance of the outer shell that has lived and will continue to live, in the form of art and jewelry.