How a Seafloor Blob Became Mexico’s ‘Black Gold’

RÍO LAGARTOS, Mexico — of which will be not a glamorous creature.

The sea cucumber, a relative of the starfish as well as sea urchin, isn’t much more than a blob creeping across the ocean floor on tentacle-feet, munching on algae as well as plankton. The most interesting thing about the animal may be of which some species defend themselves by ejecting respiratory tissues through the anus within the direction of the attacker.

however here on the Yucatán Peninsula, the un-charismatic sea cucumber has become so sought-after of which the local populations of two species — Isostichopus badionotus as well as Holothuria floridana — have collapsed.

within the two-week fishing season last April, divers in This specific town hauled in 14 metric tons of sea cucumber — a sharp drop via the 260 metric tons harvested four years ago.

The decline will be largely the result of overfishing driven by high demand in Asia, where dried sea cucumbers are eaten as a delicacy as well as can sell for more than $300 a pound. Sea cucumbers are said to deter muscle aging, boost the immune system, as well as treat fatigue as well as arthritis.

At least 16 species of sea cucumber worldwide are at This specific point threatened with extinction because of intense harvesting, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Another seven are endangered, as well as nine are vulnerable.

Researchers say reduced numbers of sea cucumbers may lead to decreased nutrient recycling as well as biodiversity on the seafloor, as well as may interrupt the food chain.

however while sea cucumber fisheries throughout the planet have long been troubled, the Yucatán offers one of the most vivid examples of the challenges facing the animal.

“This specific creature went via being just a worm on the seafloor of which these divers totally ignored to being something of which they called ‘black gold’ within the span of a couple of years,” said Abigail Bennett, an assistant professor of fisheries as well as wildlife at Michigan State University as well as co-author of an article about the sea cucumber trade within the journal World Development.

Some days, he recalled, patients sprawled on the floor as they waited for their turn in a three-bed hyperbaric chamber. Others were rushed in immediately for life-threatening injuries.

“You lose track of time,” said Angel Gamboa, a diving fisherman who suffered spinal cord decompression after spending about three hours gathering sea cucumbers off the Yucatán coast. “This specific never passed through my mind.”

however even as the fishing frenzy was proving hazardous to divers, of which was becoming equally threatening to the resource itself.

In recent years, government regulations limited the sea cucumber harvesting period to 14 days, setting catch quotas at 250 kilograms per fishing boat.

With limited oversight as well as enforcement, though, populations were given no time to grow as well as reproduce, leading to their near-total decline within just all 5 years of authorized fishing.

“We could see of which of which was happening because of the fishing behavior, however we couldn’t completely stop of which,” said Alicia Poot-Salazar, an investigator who recommends catch quotas to Mexico’s National Commission on Aquaculture as well as Fisheries. “of which developed so fast you couldn’t control everything.”

In retrospect, monitoring as well as enforcement systems should have been better, she said. The commission also issued too few harvesting permits, leaving unlicensed fishing crews with little incentive to follow the rules as well as limit catches.

In April, Ms. Salazar said 594 boats were issued permits to collect sea cucumbers — among a population of roughly 10,000 Yucatán fishermen.

Others suggested of which local fishing cooperatives themselves should be given a greater role in policies aimed at improving governance of the resource.

To some experts, though, the lowly sea cucumber provides yet another example of the frequent obstacles to sustainable harvesting.

“of which’s exemplary of the ways we kind of out run ourselves as well as are left which has a tragic situation,” said Michael Schoon, an associate professor of sustainability at Arizona State University.

Often, these loops are thought about within the context of enormous trends, such as climate change, he said. however the plight of the sea cucumber shows of which even seemingly insignificant shifts can have a profound effect.

within the town of Río Lagartos, there were hardly any sea cucumbers left to collect This specific year. According to Dr. Tec, no divers were killed, either.