What are sea cucumbers and why are people risking their lives to acquire them?
Sea cucumbers are marine animals with a leathery skin and elongated body containing a single reproductive gland. They are found on the sea floor around the world, with the greatest number of holothurian in the Asia-Pacific region.
They've become an intriguing topic of discussion after an ecologist recently revealed that people are risking their lives and to acquire them.
If you've seen Steven Spielberg's 'The BFG', snozzcumbers are the first thing that will come to your mind when you see sea cucumbers.
They are gathered for human consumption as some species are considered very valuable.
Like all echinoderms, sea cucumbers have an endoskeleton just below the skin. But there's more to them than meets the eye.
There are more than 1,200 different species of sea cucumbers across the depths of the sea around the world. Therefore, they serve a useful role in the marine ecosystem in helping recycle nutrients and breaking down detritus and other organic matter.
A marine ecologist told Business Insider that sea cucumbers are ‘strange creatures’ because they don't have any limbs and eyes. They only have a mouth, an anus and a few organs in between.
"They don't have any limbs, they don't have any eyes. They have a mouth and they have an anus and a whole bunch of organs in between," Southern Cross University Marine Ecologist, Steven Purcell, told the publication.
Why do people risk their lives to acquire sea cucumbers?
Here's the answer to this question with a perspective - The normal cucumber we buy in vegetable markets and supermarkets costs less than Rs 50 for a kilogram. But a kilo of sea cucumbers can cost $3,000 (Rs 2.4 lakh).
But can the two even be compared? Not really.
Sea cucumbers are priced so highly because they are considered a 'delicacy' in many regions. According to experts and researchers, they have been a popular food item for the upper class in Asia for centuries.
Purcell, who is one of the world's foremost experts on sea cucumbers, explained that the demand for sea cucumbers exploded in the 1980s.
"But it wasn't until the 1980s that demand exploded. A growing middle class in China meant more people could afford the luxury. Today, they're typically dried and packaged in ornate boxes, then given as gifts and served on special occasions," he said.
One of the most expensive species are the Japanese sea cucumbers, a kilo of which can reach up to $3,500.
Although they might not look very appealing to eat, they are now widely popular in Asia and around the world for their high protein value.
That's not the only benefit people get from eating sea cucumbers.
The sea creatures have something called ucosylated glycosaminoglycan in their skin that can supposedly treat joint problems such as arthritis.
Therefore, besides being a delicacy, they also have a significant pharmaceutical value.
As a result, the exploitation of sea cucumbers has risen dramatically in the past few decades.