Sea Cucumber

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    In Context

    • The Indian Coast Guard seized two tonnes of endangered sea cucumber worth Rs 80 million from Tamil Nadu.

    What is a Sea Cucumber?

    • Sea cucumbers are an important constituent of the marine ecosystem as they play an important role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem. 
    • Demand: Sea cucumbers are in high demand in China and Southeast Asia, where they are consumed as food and used in medicine. 
    • This endangered species is primarily smuggled from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka.
    • By excreting inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus, they enhance the productivity of benthic animals – those living on the ocean floor.   
    • Role in Coral Reef preservation: One of the by-products of the sea cucumber’s digestion of sand is calcium carbonate, a key component of coral reef. To survive, coral reefs must accumulate calcium carbonate, and thus sea cucumbers play a vital role in their preservation.   

    • Physical characteristics:
      • No limbs or eyes, or blood.
      • There are some 1,250 known species, and many of these animals are shaped like soft-bodied cucumbers. 
      • Sea cucumbers feed on tiny particles like algae, minute aquatic animals, or waste materials, which they gather in 8 to 30 tube feet.
      • Defensive Adaptations in Sea Cucumber: When threatened, it discharges sticky threads to ensnare their enemies.
    • Usage:
      • Contain high levels of a chemical called fucosylated glycosaminoglycan in their skin, which people across Asia have been using to treat joint problems like arthritis for centuries, 
      • In Europe,  people are using it to treat certain cancers and to reduce blood clots. 
      • Protection
        • Protected under Schedule I under the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972 so their trade is banned. 
        • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change imposed a total ban on harvesting and transporting sea cucumbers in 2001.
        • The ministry has also declared it an endangered species. 
        • As per Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), sea cucumbers of marine environments enjoy the same status as tigers and lions.

    World’s first conservation area for sea cucumbers in India

    • Lakshadweep has created the world’s first conservation area for sea cucumbers.
    • Other than the sea around Lakshadweep islands and Andaman Nicobar islands, the Gulf of Mannar at the confluence of the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal in Tamil Nadu is also home to sea cucumbers.

    Source: PIB