Posted | Monday 12th December, 2011
Scientists at Newcastle University believe the humble sea cucumber could play a vital role in the fight to save our seas - and become an unusual addition to British gourmet food.
Not only is this salty Asian delicacy a rich source of nutrients, it is also an important part of the marine ecosystem. Much like worms working soil in a garden, sea cucumbers are responsible for cleaning up the sea bed - moving, consuming and mixing marine sediments. Widely used in Chinese medicine and cuisine, sea cucumbers are also a rich source of glucosamine and chondroitin which are used in a range of common food supplements.
As a result, natural stocks of sea cucumbers are now seriously depleted around the world, but at Newcastle University, a team led by Professor Selina Stead, is investigating how we might be able to use sea cucumbers to develop a more sustainable way of farming in the sea.
Dr Matthew Slater, an expert in sea cucumbers and part of Professor Stead's team, said the aim was to investigate the sea cucumber's potential as a natural, organic cleaner on fish farms around the world, as well as a source of food.
"We wanted to find a way to clean up waste produced by large-scale aquaculture so that farming activities in the sea have little or no impact on the ocean floor," explained Dr Slater "By growing sea cucumbers on waste from fish farms we are not only farming a valuable food product and giving the wild sea cucumber populations a chance to recover, we are also developing solutions to curb the impact of fish farming."
The team has carried out most of the work at Newcastle University's Dove Marine Laboratory, the next step will be to introduce the sea cucumbers to fish farms around the United Kingdom and farm them as both cleaners and a source of food.
As well as looking at the potential for farming sea cucumbers in the UK, the team is also leading a major aquaculture project in Tanzania, where animals are being grown in lagoon-based cages, to support a growing industry. Professor Selina Stead says this important food export can provide a valuable income and a sustainable alternative for people living in the region.
"One of the key aims of the project is to find ways of developing community-led aquaculture in East Africa as a way of tackling poverty" she explained. "Sea cucumbers are fairly simple to farm; they just require clean water and plenty of food, in the form of nutrient-rich waste"
"Man's impact on the sea has escalated in recent decades and it is vital we work quickly to try to reverse some of the problems we have caused. Key species of sea cucumbers are already dangerously close to extinction unless we pull back now and give them a chance to recover" said Professor Stead.
Learn more http://bit.ly/tl7PSw