How Sea Cucumbers Could Help to Save the World


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What is a Sea Cucumber anyway?

It sounds on first hearing the name, like a type of vegetable found in the Ocean, but there is actually a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to the humble Sea Cucumber.

They are actually not vegetables at all, but marine animals that are shaped like an ugly lumpy browny-olive coloured cucumber. They are related to the starfish and sea urchin, and are found in more than 500 varieties, ranging from an inch long to a whopping six feet!

Courtesy Lazy
Courtesy Lazy

They tend to live on the ocean floor, burrowing into the sea bed or hiding in grasses, feeding on waste organic matter and small creatures. They often release long branch like structures that they use to catch and absorb matter to feed on. They ingest mud and faeces as they make their way across the ocean floor, which simply passes through the lumpy body and makes it’s way out again, with small particles of dead organisms being absorbed along the way. They are like natural vacuum cleaners, and have been found to filter up to 300lbs of sediment each year. The following clip from Animal Planet shows just how this works.

These echinoderms have a bizarre defence mechanism that they use when they are disturbed and threatened. The eject their innards through their waste hole, which consist of long sticky toxic threads to trap and poison potential enemies. This reaction is shown clearly on the following video clip. Once ejected the internal organs require six weeks to grow back.

So they sound a little unpleasant, but clearly have an important role filtering the organic junk matter that ends up on the ocean floor. It is for this reason that they are being considered as a solution to save the world’s oceans from pollution. Scientists from Newcastle University in England are working together with colleagues in Africa to assess the true potential of these humble creatures.

Fish Farm Filters

Numbers of Sea Cucumber found in their natural habitats is at a record low as the organisms are eaten as a delicacy across Asia and widely used in Chinese medicine.

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