Posts Tagged ‘Sea Cucumbers’

Sea cucumber hatchery to give momentum to industry while saving species

February 26, 2017

The construction of a new sea cucumber hatchery was initiated in Mannar yesterday at a cost of Rs 180 million rupees, says Nimal Chandraratne, the director general of National Aquaculture Development Authority of Sri Lanka.

Once completed this year, the hatchery will produce a million juvenile sea cucumbers annually, Chandraratne assured.
Sea cucumbers are bottom-dwelling primitive marine invertebrates closely related to starfish and sea urchin. They have elongated soft bodies resembling the shape of a cucumber or a sausage, giving rise to its common English name. In Sinhala they are called ‘muhudu kudella’ (sea leach). East Asian countries regard sea cucumbers as a delicacy where it is commonly known as bêche-de-mer (literally “sea-spade”) in French, creating a lucrative market.

Sea cucumbers seen at Mannar . Pic courtesy Kumudini Ekaratne, IUCN

Sea cucumbers seen at Mannar . Pic courtesy Kumudini Ekaratne, IUCN

The sea cucumber is a slow-moving animal that allows easy collection, so it was soon over-harvested in many areas. On average, a hectare of sea bottom should have a population of about 30 individuals, but a survey by the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, a decade ago, revealed the number has dropped to one or two individuals in some areas, according to senior scientist Ajith Kumara.It is stated that the sea cucumber industry in Sri Lanka is quite old, having been introduced by the Chinese. Some old records mention that processed sea cucumbers appear to be one of the commodities taken to China during the last 1,000 years when trade existed via the silk route. But the demand has arisen sharply with a high price tag, so the industry surged in 1980s in coastal areas. They are dried and the entire processed harvest has been exported to countries like Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan bringing much needed foreign exchange.

In Sri Lanka, 27 different species of sea cucumbers are found, but the high value species are mainly confined to north, east and north-western coastal areas. The war had deterred over-exploitation with restrictions on maritime operations, but the post-war scenario seems to be detrimental to sea cucumbers.

A study funded by the Mangroves for the Future, carried out for six months between October 2013 and June 2014 by the University of Jaffna, found that the population is depleted in the Jaffna Lagoon. According to the study of 29 sites in the Jaffna Lagoon only10 locations had any sea cucumbers. The total in the 10 sites was only 360 individuals. But another survey between 1980 and 1981 recorded 20-160 individuals of high-value sea cucumber species per square metre.

The sea cucumber species called sandfish (holothuria scabra) that has higher value in the market is now categorized as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of threatened fauna. So the industry is doomed to collapse without intervention.

Against this backdrop, the sea cucumber farms are being introduced in Sri Lanka. A number of farms are already operating and the Mannar hatchery will help produce juveniles for farms.

Chandraratne of NAQDA said that holothuria scabra, that has a high demand, will be bred in the hatchery. The creatures will be artificially bred. At present there is a privately-owned hatchery and another operated by NARA.

Chandraratne said there are plans to establish a sea cucumber farm in Nainathivu and more hatcheries later.
NARA’s inland aquaculture and aquatic resources division researched to develop technology for breeding sea cucumbers since 2011 at their Kalpitiya field station independently.

Scientist Kumara said it was difficult to distinguish male and female sea cucumbers, so about 50 individuals are put into a tank and given a thermal shock by increasing the temperature of the water in the container and cooling it down quickly. This results in the male sea cucumber releasing sperm. Then the female starts to release eggs.

One female releases several million eggs, but very few hatch, Kumara explained.
Kumara said they are working closely with the community to protect the sea cucumber fishery by releasing some of the hatched juveniles into the natural environment.

Fisheries expert Dr Steve Creech, emphasized the importance of having a management strategy for Sri Lanka’s sea cucumber fishery to save the free living population. He recognizes the issue of open access for Sri Lankan sea cucumber fisheries that will further deplete the natural living species. So he suggests there should be harvest control strategies based on annual assessment of the status of the stocks. Dr Creech thinks that sea cucumber farming is a good development with low impact on the environment and ecosystem and fishing.

Published on SundayTimes on 26.02.2017

Fourteen fishermen were arrested by the navy on February 20 for illegally gathering sea cucumber. They were arrested in the Keeramunal area and 302 sea cucumbers, a dinghy, and diving gear were seized. They were handed over to the fisheries inspector at Kilinochchi the navy said. The navy has often intercepted smugglers bringing sea cucumbers from India, mostly in dried form. Due to over-harvesting, India banned gathering of sea cucumbers from the wild, so racketeers are not allowed to export the sea cucumbers through India. It is believed they are selling their stocks to Sri Lankans who can re-export taking advantage of loopholes in regulations.

Sea cucumbers seized by Navy in Northern seas

Sea cucumbers seized by Navy in Northern seas

Navy intercepts illegal shipment of Sea Cucumbers

October 10, 2011
Indian smugglers take advantage of Sri Lanka’s liberal laws on export of marine creatures.
On Thursday, on the high seas off Kovilam, along the Northern coast, the Sri Lanka Navy intercepted a fishing boat and seized 20 gunny bags containing 996 kilos of dried sea cucumber. Four persons were arrested. The Navy believes the illegal cargo had been transferred to the fishing craft far out at sea with the assistance of Indian collaborators involved in cross-border racketeering.

Photo shows processing of Sea Cucumbers by Sri Lankan fishermen. (c) Dr.Terney Pradeep Kumara

Sri Lanka is known as a hub for the shipping of sea cucumber and sea horse – marine creatures prized by overseas buyers for their alleged medicinal properties.

Sea cucumber, also known as beche-de-mer, is used in Chinese medicine in East Asian countries, and demand is high. It is illegal to trade in sea cucumber and sea horse in India. In Sri Lanka, the marine creatures are treated as a fisheries resource and may be exported with a permit.

India’s Rameshwaran Island has a reputation for being a base for sea cucumber and sea horse smuggling.

Since the end of the war in the North and the East, smuggling activity has been on the increase.

Unsustainable fishing, according to Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara, head of the Oceanography Department, University of Ruhuna, is threatening the survival of the sea cucumber.

The marine creature is a slow breeder, and it takes a long time for a population to regenerate after a spell of over-fishing. These creatures help maintain a balance in the marine ecosystem by keeping the sea floor clear of unwelcome algae and other edible but invasive creatures.


Protecting Sri Lanka’s marine biodiversity is becoming increasingly difficult. As the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) has no marine protection unit as such, the Navy could play a role in protecting Sri Lanka’s marine life and biodiversity.

Navy to the rescue

The following is a list of incidents this year in which the Sri Lanka Navy intervened to check illegal or harmful activity threatening the country’s natural resources and biodiversity.

September 21: Navy intercepts boat carrying illegal shipment of dried sea cucumber
August 8: Navy apprehends two persons engaged in illegal fishing
July 25: Navy uncovers illicit sand-mining operation
July 21: Navy raids illicit timber felling site
May 16: Navy apprehends conch shell smugglers
April 30: Navy apprehends illegal conch shell collectors
April 16: Navy releases into deep seas stranded giant blue whale
April 2: Navy arrests conch shell smugglers
March 12: Conch shell trader arrested
March 9: Navy surveillance rounds up sea cucumber traders
January 31: Navy apprehends persons illegally diving for conch shells
January 20: Navy seizes fishing gear used for illegal fishing around Pigeon Island
January 8: Navy arrests 26 persons for illegal fishing
January 6: Navy arrests five persons for illegally diving for lobsters
January 5: Navy arrests 40 persons carrying 133 oxygen cylinders illegally diving to collect conch shells.


published on SundayTimes on