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Why People Are Risking Their Lives Diving For Sea Cucumbers

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Why People Are Risking Their Lives Diving For Sea Cucumbers

An ecologist has revealed the reason why people are risking their lives in search of sea cucumbers.

Sea cucumbers. The first thought that springs to mind is something which resembles one of the Big Friendly Giant's large and slimy snozzcumbers.

However, this type of cucumber is very much alive.

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And while they may not seem like much, they are considered very valuable indeed.

An expert has revealed why divers go to such lengths to retrieve sea cucumbers. Credit: Alamy
An expert has revealed why divers go to such lengths to retrieve sea cucumbers. Credit: Alamy

Across the depths of the sea around the world there are 1,250 different species of sea cucumbers to be found.

Southern Cross University Marine Ecologist, Steven Purcell – one of the world's foremost experts on sea cucumbers –explained the animals are really 'quite strange'.

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He told Business Insider: "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."


While the average cucumber you get from your local supermarket normally costs less than a quid, a kilo of sea cucumbers can 'set you back over $3,000'.

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Sea cucumbers' high price is down to them being seen as a 'delicacy' and having been eaten by those in the upper class in Asia 'for centuries'.

"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.

"So, the fancier and more unusual-looking, the better. And more expensive," the narrator of the video explains.

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Purcell also noted that the price of a sea cucumber goes up the 'spikier the animal' is.

He added that the Japanese sea cucumber in particular looks like 'some sort of mystical dragon slug with all these sort of spikes coming out of it'.

A kilo of Japanese sea cucumbers is reported as reaching up to $3,500.

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Sea cucumbers don't look particularly appealing to eat, but their taste nor texture is really the reason why they're consumed.

The animals not only have a high protein value, but 'high levels of a chemical called fucosylated glycosaminoglycan in their skin'.

In Asia, fucosylated glycosaminoglycan is often used to help treat joint problems such as arthritis.

In Europe, cancers and blood clots are also reportedly treated with the chemical.

The sea cucumber is subsequently seen as having pharmaceutical value as well as being a delicacy.

The exportation of sea cucumbers has since risen dramatically. For instance, in 1996, only 35 countries exported the animals. This number grew to 83 countries in 2011.

"It's just spread like contagion from one country to another," Purcell said.

The rising demand for sea cucumbers is what has made it much more dangerous to dive for them.

With more of the animals being harvested, supply is running out meaning divers have to go deeper to try and find them.

The price of sea cucumbers has also inflated due to them becoming more rare – between 2011 and 2016, prices rose by nearly 17 percent – which fuels the incentive to make the risky journey.

Purcell warned: "Some countries, they're doing that without either a lot of training. In some of the tropical countries, you're getting a lot of people either becoming paralysed through decompression sickness."

In attempts to harvest sea cucumbers, over 40 Yucatan divers have reportedly died.

Seven species of sea cucumbers are also now classified as endangered.

It is hoped that in order to meet demand, preserve the animals and also reduce the risk to life, more people will start farming sea cucumbers rather than fishing for them.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]  

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: News, Animals, World News, Science

Poppy Bilderbeck
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