How Las Vegas Destroyed Pearls

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Las Vegas destroyed pearls in Mexico. Hard to imagine isn’t it? Most people blame Las vegas for ruining dreams, promoting alcoholism, supporting hedonism, etc. I love Las Vegas (because I am a great at dice 😉 however there is one thing I just do not support… how Las Vegas destroyed pearls!


I remember the first time I drove to Las Vegas. My friend Meredith and I were on a cross country trip and Las Vegas was high on our list of destinations. We turned off of Interstate 40 late at night and took highway 93 through the dark desert road. When we finally crossed the border from Arizona to Nevada I remember asking, “What is that?” There was something huge and lit up and it looked surreal against the dark desert backdrop. “Is this Vegas?” I wondered. No, it was the Hoover Dam.


The Hoover Dam was constructed in the 1930s. Las Vegas, just 30 miles west of the Hoover Dam site, was a popular destination for potential laborers. This city had been incorporated in 1911 and although gambling was outlawed throughout the state, it was commonplace in Las Vegas’ illicit casinos. Organized crime was also a growing enterprise. Gambling was legalized again in 1931, the same year construction began on the Hoover Dam. After the dam was completed in 1935, Las Vegas along with Los Angeles, CA and Phoenix, Arizona benefitted largely from the hydroelectric power. But there were some areas that clearly did not benefit.

If you follow the wild Colorado River south below the dam, you will see that this river spills into the Sea of Cortez.

Colorado River - Hoover Dam to the Sea of Cortez

So, although most parties were very concerned with how this dam might benefit their interests, no one gave much thought to how damming the Colorado River might adversely affect the ocean it spilled into. Well, here is what happened. Without the constant flow of water into the Sea of Cortez, ocean temperatures went up. Lacking freshwater, salinity did too. Again, without the glorious churning of the freshwater river into the sea, oxygen levels in the water were affected. In this case, the O2 levels decreased. The Colorado River was responsible for spilling luscious minerals into the sea and these minerals were cherished by phytoplankton. Without these minerals, the health of the phytoplankton was diminished. All of these factors changed the ecosystem of the Sea of Cortez. And what happened to the glorious pearl oysters that were consistently producing pearls for up to 400 years prior? They went extinct.

Now, as a disclaimer, there were other factors that could have contributed to the loss of these prime populations. These include overfishing, natural environmental changes and diseases. But, as Douglas McLaurin, researcher for the Sea of Cortez Pearl Farm says of the Hoover Dam, “It was like dropping a bomb.”

So, that glorious dam which provides all that power to las Vegas to keep the Strip alive, destroyed the pearls in Mexico. Thanks to Douglas and his team, though, these pearls are coming back to life!

Sea of Cortez pearls - how vegas destroyed pearls in mexico
Sea of Cortez pearls




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