Sea cucumbers – Bêche-de-mer

image from http://www.reef.crc.org.auSea cucumbers (Bêche-de-mer) are echinoderms – in the class Holothuroidea. They are generally scavengers, feeding on plankton and other organic debris in the bottom sediments. They often found in substantial numbers beneath fish farms. Sea cucumbers are considered delacacies in China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and Malaysia; and some varieties are respected for their properties as an ingredient in traditional medicines. Sea cucumbers have been called ‘Ginseng of the Sea’.

B.H. Ridzwan, T.C. Leong and S.Z. Idid have published a document entitled The Antinociceptive Effects of Water Extracts from Sea Cucumbers Holothuria leucospilota Brandt, Bohadschia marmorata vitiensis Jaeger and Coelomic Fluid from Stichopus hermanii. This document is not always available – listed here from the web archive. An antinociceptive is an agent for deadening the sense of pain without loss of consciousness – a synonym for analgesic.

In New Zealand, Kimberley Maxwell from NIWA has been investigating the use of sea cucumbers for waste disposer as way to reduce organic waste in aquaculture systems. The polyculture of sea cucumbers could provide aquaculturists with a lucrative added revenue stream – sea cucumbers can command up to $NZ15 (approx $US10) per kg dry weight.

The CSIRO in Australia have been working to ensure the sustainable harvest of sea cucumbers to prevent overfishing while allowing Torres Strait Islanders to benefit from the use of sea cucumber stocks. This is a traditional harvest, according to wikipedia:

To supply the markets of Southern China, Macassan trepangers traded with the Indigenous Australians of Arnhem Land. This Macassan contact with Australia is the first recorded example of trade between the inhabitants of the Australian continent and their Asian neighbours.

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