Image: Chris73/Wikimedia Commons
They are not exactly large charismatic megafauna that inspire wildlife lovers around the world to donate millions of dollars to conservation. But sea cucumbers are increasingly becoming the latest casualty of overfishing for use in soups and medicines. The global decline in sea cucumbers is due in part to the fact that they are easy to catch and reproduce slowly. Marine reserves do exist to protect sea cucumbers but - like many wildlife reserves - poor funding, inadequate controls, and lack of enforcement mean that poaching for the highly-prized little echinoderms is still the biggest challenge in protecting the species. The good news is that efforts are underway to understand and address the pressures threatening sea cucumbers. You can read a full report on the trade in sea cucumbers here and a recent academic article (Anderson et al, 2010) here, or a short article in the January 14, 2011 issue of Science Magazine (you'll need to register...but it is free). With good research, increased conservation and protection efforts, and better consumer awareness, this important member of marine ecosystems around the world will continue to inch across our ocean floors.