Home Environment The Economic Value of Sea Cucumbers in the Egyptian Red Sea

The Economic Value of Sea Cucumbers in the Egyptian Red Sea


Coral reefs in Egypt's Red Sea can be likened to a desert oasis: the high metabolic activity of the reef ecology system makes it a primary source of nutrients in an otherwise nutrient-poor sea. Without the reef as a source of nutrients, the entire ecosystem of the sea would collapse.

In tropical waters throughout the world, sea cucumbers are being over fished due to great demand, particularly in China, for the dried product, "beche-de-mer," believed to have aphrodisiac and curative properties. The demand is spreading, as even in Hurghada, some seafood restaurants are now offering sea cucumber as a specialty gourmet dish.


Studies on sustainable harvesting of sea cucumbers, where cucumber communities are exploited in moderation, show a very different process than that of the intensive fishing practices occurring worldwide.

Marine reserves can be likened to bank accounts: savings gain interest and so make money for the owner. So long as only the interest is spent, the capital will remain to generate more interest. However, if the capital is plundered, the interest and income will be lost. A permanent marine reserve protects the capital. As soon as it is opened to fishing, the capital is at risk. One study found that when a reef area re-opened after being closed to fishing for three and a half years, only two weeks later, intensive fishing had removed 25 percent of the stock.

As with most marine invertebrates, the main excretion products of Holothurians are ammonium and small amounts of phosphate. The concentration of phosphate and nitrates in the sediments of coral reefs is usually high compared to the logographic water surrounding most coral reefs. The recycling of these nutrients by benthos grazers is assumed to be important in maintaining the high productivity of coral reefs. It has been suggested that one of the functions of Holothurians in coral reefs is the recycling of organic matter.

 


 

From the above information, over fishing and unmanaged fishing will have an adverse affect on coral production, and the reefs will begin to deteriorate and decline over time. As this happens, the number of diving and snorkeling tourists will also decline as they head for destinations with better quality reefs. The decrease in foreign diving and snorkeling tourists will have a noticeable impact on the economy.

Two options for managing the impact of cucumber harvesting have been identified:
1. Impose a quota on sea cucumber harvesting, which is species-specific, and includes specific numbers and minimum sizes.

2- Identify large areas along the entire Egyptian Red Sea coast which are strictly "no-take" regions, and replenish the areas where sea cucumber harvesting is allowed with larvae from the no-take zones. The no-take zones will preferably be located in popular diving and snorkeling areas to help preserve the economic value of the reefs as a tourism asset.
Figure . Apparent Mutualism and Direct and Indirect Effects.

 

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