Sea cucumbers are essential to the marine ecosystem, playing a vital role in keeping it healthy and balanced. Without them, the marine environment would become sterile. These creatures feed on algae, small aquatic animals, or waste materials. Unfortunately, some species of sea cucumbers are becoming increasingly rare and are not highly valued by Asian consumers.
If these species become commercially extinct, the market will shift to other species of croaker or luxury seafood products like sea cucumbers. It is difficult to determine the risk of extinction for many species of sea cucumbers due to lack of data. When higher-value sea cucumbers disappear from fishing areas, fishermen are likely to switch to lower-value species. To many in the West, it may seem strange that these slug-like creatures are endangered due to their popularity on dining tables. It is important to investigate and expose crimes against wildlife, bringing those who destroy and pollute marine ecosystems to justice. A recent evaluation of the 377 species of Aspirochirotida sea cucumbers for inclusion in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species placed 16 (some of which are the most commercially valuable) in the hazard categories, corresponding to a high risk of extinction.
Researchers are calling for better protection of tropical sea cucumbers on the Great Barrier Reef, whose numbers are declining due to persistent and increasing overexploitation. Recent research shows that sea cucumber fisheries have expanded to more than 70 countries and intensive fishing in low-income countries has exhausted many wild stocks. Sea cucumbers are the less glamorous cousins of starfish and sea urchins, and can be found in all major oceans and seas. New research reveals that overexploitation has endangered tropical marine cucumber populations on the Great Barrier Reef, with strong demand for this delicacy in East and Southeast Asia. With growing wealth in China, demand for sea cucumbers and other luxury seafood has increased significantly in recent decades. The consequences of sea cucumber extinction would be dire for the marine ecosystem.
It is essential that we take steps to protect these creatures from overexploitation and ensure their survival for future generations. We must also continue to investigate and expose crimes against wildlife, bringing those who destroy and pollute marine ecosystems to justice.