Sea cucumbers endangered due to exploitation

Written by Joseph Vackayil | Chennai, Sep 1 | Updated: Sep 3 2008, 04:38am hrs
Sea cucumbers, once an important commercial marine product found in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar off the coast of Tamil Nadu are facing extinction due to indiscriminate fishing and over-exploitation. The marine creatures which were found in abundant numbers in the 1980s and 1990s have virtually become extinct, raising calls for their protection because of demand in international markets, and their nutritional and medicinal value.

Scientists from the Central Marine Fishery Research Institute (CMFRI) said that the the number of sea cucumbers could be revived through resource enhancement technologies like sea ranching, joint conservation efforts and the tools of biotechnology. Research on this high-value marine product was discontinued in 2001, after a total ban under the Wild Life Act, 1972.

Sea cucumbers are a group of invertebrate, worm-like animals. About 650 species of sea cucumbers under the family holothuriidae are present in seas across the world. In India, nearly 200 species have been reported, of which 75 species are from the shallow waters, within a 20-metre depth. Of these, 12 species are of commercial value. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have vast varieties of sea cucumbers, followed by the Lakshwadeep Islands, the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay. Sea cucumbers are boiled, dried or smoked to prepare a product called beche de mer, a high-value delicacy in China and Southeast Asia. It is also an important ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.

Recently, a workshop on Strategies for Conservation and Resource Enhancement of Sea Cucumbers in India, held at CMFRI, Chennai, with participants from the National Biodiversity Authority, Zoological Survey of India, Central Institute of Brackish Water Aquaculture, Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department, National Bureau of Fish Genetics.

The participants suggested that instead of a total ban, attempts should be made to adopt regulatory methods for conservation, supported by proactive measures like resource enhancement of sea cucumbers through sea ranching of hatchery-produced offspring of different species.