Tamilnadu coastal marine police has seized about 100 kg of sea cucumber valued at Rs 10 lakh in the international market.
Sea cucumbers are a fascinating group of marine animals. They live chiefly among corals but are also found among rocks and in muddy and sandy flats. They are distributed from the shore to the greatest depths.
Their lengths range from a few millimetres to more than 2 m and they occur in all color combinations: white, black, red, blue, green, yellow, violet etc. Some of them are really very beautiful while alive and are in great demand for aquaria.
Sea cucumber has been classified as an endangered coral species and their harvest is banned under the Wildlife Protection Act.
Sea cucumbers are echinoderms from the class Holothuroidea. They are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body containing a single, branched gonad. Sea cucumbers are found on the sea floor worldwide.
The number of holothurian species worldwide is about 1,717 with the greatest number being in the Asia Pacific region.
Many of these are gathered for human consumption and some species are cultivated in aquaculture systems. The harvested product is variously referred to as trepang, bêche-de-mer or balate.
Sea cucumbers serve a useful role in the marine ecosystem as they help recycle nutrients, breaking down detritus and other organic matter after which bacteria can continue the degradation process.
Like all echinoderms, sea cucumbers have an endoskeleton just below the skin, calcified structures that are usually reduced to isolated microscopic ossicles (or sclerietes) joined by connective tissue.
In some species these can sometimes be enlarged to flattened plates, forming an armour. In pelagic species such as Pelagothuria natatrix (Order Elasipodida, family Pelagothuriidae), the skeleton is absent and there is no calcareous ring.
The sea cucumbers are named after their resemblance to the fruit of the cucumber plant.
Some of the important sea cucumber species in Indian waters:
There are nearly 200 known species in the seas around India, most of them in deep waters. About 75 species have been shown to be present in shallow waters while nearly 50 species can be collected from the intertidal region. Nearly 20 species of sea cucumber found in the Indian waters have the commercial importance. Some of the commercially important sea cucumber species are mentioned below:
Holothuria fuscogilva (White teatfish)
H. nobilis (Black teatfish)
H. spinifera (Brown sandfish)
Thelenota ananas (Prickly redfish)
Actinopyga miliaris (Blackfish)
A. mauritiana (Surf redfish)
A. echinites (Deep water redfish)
Bohadschia marmorata (Chalkyfish)
H. edulis (Pinkfish)
H. atra (Lollyfish)
In 2013, the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) had strongly recommended that sea cucumber, a marine organism found in the coral reef areas, be retained in Schedule I Category of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Schedule I contains the list of most endangered species and gives them highest level of protection.
Present Status: It figures in the Schedule I (Part IV C) of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.