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The Geology, Varieties, and History of Ocean Jasper® Part One

An Introduction to Ocean JasperTM  by Christopher Lee Matthews
oj-oceanjasperpebbles(A selection of flat Ocean JasperTM  pebbles showing its range of colors, patterns, and translucency, sometimes even in the same piece.)

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What is Ocean JasperTM ?

Ocean JasperTM  is a trademarked name for a multicolored stone from Madagascar, typically with spherical patterning. Although commonly described as an orbicular jasper, the most recent research suggests it is the mineral chalcedony instead. Some pieces have agate banding or druses of clear quartz, a coating of tiny crystals, known more commonly as “druzy”.

The variety of quartz known as chalcedony is often unfamiliar to people. It is actually the mother stone of many semiprecious gems: banded chalcedony is better known as agate, red as carnelian, and black as onyx, etc. Its capacity to transmit light is a characteristic of chalcedony. By definition jasper is not translucent, unless cut extremely thin.

Although chalcedony (chal•ce•do•ny) is more technically pronounced “kal-seh-duh-knee”, it is more commonly said like “kal-suh-dough-knee”.

oj-microphotograph-beccahahn01oj-microphotograph-beccahahn02oj-microphotograph-beccahahn03(Above: Chalcedony orbs.  Middle: Quartz grains. Below: Agate banding.  Polarized light microphotography of Ocean JasperTM  courtesy of Becca Hahn, ©2015.)

The best known research on Ocean JasperTM  is by Dr. Werner Lieber. He theorized that it is a sphärolithischer Chalcedon (German, “spherulitic or orbicular chalcedony”). Spherulitic refers to spherulites, a more technical name for the orbs. In geology a spherulite is a spherical body, created by radial growth around a central point, like the spokes of a wheel. It is easy to forget that the bulls-eyes, flowers/stars (orbs surrounded by druzy quartz), and irregular polygons are all crosscuts of three dimensional objects.

oj-crosscutsphereoj-kabambypolygons(Above:  A cross cut of a sphere in Kabamby Ocean JasperTM .  Below: Contact between orbs in rough Kabamby Ocean JasperTM , producing irregular polygons.)

When thin sections of Ocean JasperTM are examined under a polarized light microscope, the stone is revealed to be fibrous chalcedony spherulites, the flower like patterns, among grains of chalcedony and quartz. Irregular polygrams are produced where two or more of the orbs touch one another, a formation sometimes seen on a larger scale, especially in material from Kabamby.
oj-microphotograph-leebills-01oj-microphotograph-leebills-02oj-microphotograph-leebills-03(Above: Crosscut of an orb, made of fibrous chalcedony with an iron oxide included center. Middle: Orbs and granular chalcedony and quartz.  Below: Growth interference between orbs, producing irregular polygrams.  Polarized light microphotography of Ocean JasperTM , courtesy of Lee Bills, ©2015. Prints of his work are available here.)

oj-localitymapoj-marovatovskabamby(Although all Ocean JasperTM  comes from one area in Madagascar, there are actually two different deposits.   The pins in the map above are by their names.  Marovato is on the coast [left pin], Kabamby is further inland [right pin].  The slab on the bottom/right came from Marovato and the top/left from Kabamby.)

Where does Ocean JasperTM  come from?

Ocean JasperTM  only comes from one place in the world, northwestern Madagascar. It is found in the Analalava district of the Sofia region in the former province of Mahajanga. There are actually two different deposits, about ten miles apart:

oj-marovatoslab

1: Near the village of Marovato, directly on the shoreline, known for its multicolored orbs, translucency, and druzy . (The name Marovato means “many stones” in Malagasy.)

oj-kabambyslab2: Near the village of Kabamby, about a mile and a half inland, known for its consistent green and yellow colors, opaqueness, and geometric patterning created by contact between orbs. (The name “Kabamby” does not translate into anything else in Malagasy.)

Kabamby Ocean JasperTM  is often confused with Kabamba Jasper, a green and black stone with eye shaped patterning from central Madagascar instead.

What are the different varieties of Ocean JasperTM ?

Four different veins of Ocean JasperTM  have been discovered in Marovato and each has produced slightly different looking stones. The first vein was the largest, the second was much smaller, and the last two were even smaller.  Additional material was sometimes found through surface mining, often revealed by extreme weather.

oj-1stveinThe first vein was mined from 1999-2006. It tends to be green, pink, and white, with less clearly defined orbs.  It was approximately 90 feet long by 25 feet wide.

oj-2ndveinThe second vein was mined from 2005-2006. It tends to have a wider range of colors, including more reds and yellows, with some extremely clear orbs, often in bulls-eyes. It was approximately 35 feet long by 15 feet wide.

oj-3rdveinA third vein was found in 2013 but was tapped out after only six months. It was further inland. It tends to be pink, green, and white, with some clearly defined orbs, sometimes yellow.  It was approximately 10 feet long by 7 feet wide.

fourthveinoj
A fourth vein was found in 2014 but only lasted three months.  It was also discovered further inland, about 1/3 of a mile south of the first vein.  It was approximately 23 feet long by 16 feet across.  The material tends to be pink, green, and white, sometimes yellow.   Many pieces have small but defined orbs, similar to some stones from the second vein.

UPDATE: Three more veins have been found in Marovato since the publication of this article, bringing the number to seven.  Please stay tuned for additional updates.

The material from Kabamby is dark green and golden yellow, sometimes pink, red, and off white. It was first mined in 2002 and continues to be collected today. Kabamby Ocean JasperTM  is found through surface mining across an approximately 15 mile area.

oj-kabamby
The same claim produces other stones too, the best known being Ocean Wave Jasper. It has a similar color palette to Ocean JasperTM  but lacks orbs, displaying wavy bands instead. It was mined from 2002 to 2006.

oj-oceanwave

How was Ocean JasperTM discovered?

The early history of Ocean JasperTM  is still mysterious.  The existence of chalcedony deposits in the area was first written about in Alfred Lacroix’s Minéralogie de Madagascar (French, “Mineralogy of Madagascar”), published in 1922.  However orbicular material is not specifically mentioned.

Research does suggest that at least the Kabamby location was worked at one time but then forgotten.  Dr. Klaus Thalheim has documented one of the earliest known examples of Ocean JasperTM , a slab from Kabamby.  It belonged to Richard Baldauf, an early 20th century German collector. The original 1927 receipt describes it as Augenjaspis (German, “eye jasper”) from Kabamby, the correct locality.

In 1977 a photo of Kabamby Ocean JasperTM was included in Grund’s Encyclopédie des Minéraux (French, “Encyclopedia of Minerals”), sparking interest in the stone. However the locality was incorrectly listed as Kabamba, in central Madagascar.
oceanjasper01oj-marovatomineoceanjaspermineoj-kabambymine(Views of the two different Ocean JasperTM  mines.  Top Three Images: In Marovato material was collected from underground veins underground and some surface mining.  Bottom Image: In Kabamby material is collected through surface mining over a much larger area.)

Ocean JasperTM was rediscovered at the turn of the millennium by Paul Obeniche.  Like many others, he first saw it in Grund’s encyclopedia.  Later a prospector brought him a few samples, knowing only that it was found along the northwestern coast of Madagascar.  Paul launched a series of excursions to locate it.  Ocean JasperTM  was found again in October of 1999, on the shoreline outside the village of Marovato. Low tide made it visible.  The material here was surprisingly different than the green and yellow stone he expected to find, with a larger color palette. The original Kabamby material was found nearby later.

fourthvein01fourthvein2(Ocean JasperTM  is mined in Marovato using shallow trenches, since the stone formed there in distinct veins, found near the surface.  These photos are from the fourth vein worked for a few months in 2014.)

Because it was originally collected along the shoreline, many people believe all Ocean JasperTM  comes from the water.  While the first and second Marovato veins were discovered directly on the beach, the mines themselves were underground.  The third vein was discovered much later, approximately 330 feet further inland, and the Kabamby mine is about 1.5 miles inland.

bustobeniche(Paul Obeniche’s bust watching over his booth at the Tucson Show Place.)

Ocean JasperTM  was introduced to the general public at the Tucson gem show in January of 2000. It was named there by Paul Obeniche and Eugene Mueller of the Gem Shop.  (The name Ocean Jasper® is a registered trademark owned by the Gem Shop.  It is used here with permission.)  They called it Ocean JasperTM because it resembles the waves and ripples of water and the mine was first discovered along the shoreline, originally accessible only at low tide.

Paul Obeniche was the mentor of Nader Kawar, the owner of Enter the Earth.  He passed in November 2020.  Our company has managed the Ocean JasperTM  mines since 2013 and Nader is actively looking for more material.

oj-paulobenichenaderkawar(Paul Obeniche [left] and Nader Kawar [right] at the Tucson gem show.)

How is Ocean JasperTM mined?

Ocean JasperTM is collected by shallow surface mining, no deeper than most house foundations underground. While all mining has an environmental impact, we do not use heavy machinery, explosives, or chemicals for extraction.

We follow standard land reclamation practices. Ocean JasperTM  is more technically a chalcedony, a variety of quartz. Mining chalcedony does not release dangerous byproducts into the local environment.  Excavated areas are filled back in with waste rock, replicating the succession of soil layers, and the original shape of the landscape is returned. Finally, we restore native vegetation with replanting projects.  We also partner with the neighboring communities during the rainy season, when mining is not possible, to plant trees used locally like mango and lemon.

Enter the Earth covers all the expenses at the mine, including housing and food. Miners work Monday through Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. to avoid the heat of the day. (They do not work on Thursdays for cultural reasons.) Additionally, we observe many American pay practices there like holiday pay, overtime pay, and goal based bonuses.

We provide tools and personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against injury while mining and breaking or moving rough rock. This includes but is not limited to goggles, hard hats, reflective safety clothing, gloves, steel toed boots, and particle filtering masks.

How do you support the local community?

We constructed a school for the remote communities near the Ocean JasperTM mines in 2000. We pay for the local children’s education, school supplies, and the salaries of the teachers. Additionally, we built a health clinic there in 2017. We pay for both the medical supplies and the salaries of the nurses and doctors.

Finally, we work with both the local and regional government to support the economic development of the Sofia region. For example, each year we help repair roads damaged during the rainy season. We have also supported the maintenance of local government offices, including providing solar power and back up batteries.

We are currently working on three wells to ensure clean drinking water to the local community and the construction of a bridge for safer travel.

You can read more about our efforts on our mining practices page here.

© 2015, Ocean JasperTM  microphotography, Becca Hahn

© 2015, Ocean JasperTM  microphotography, Lee Wills.  Prints of his work are available at www.etsy.com/shop/MYcroscopicLife.  He can also be contacted at leebills@live.com.

©2020 Christopher Lee Matthews, Enter the Earth.  See more interesting blog articles and amazing crystals and rocks at Enter the Earth.  Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram!