The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has strongly recommended that sea cucumber, a marine organism found in the coral reef areas, be retained in Schedule I Category of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Schedule I contains the list of most endangered species and gives them highest level of protection.
The recommendation follows a recent proposal from the Union government to delist a few species of animals, which included the sea cucumber, from the Act. In order to estimate the sea cucumber’s status in the wild, the Union government had entrusted the work of a detailed study to the ZSI.
However, the proposed exclusion of the sea cucumber does not find favour with marine researchers and the scientific community. They strongly feel that the species should remain under the protected category.
K. Venkataraman, Director, ZSI, told TheHindu that with the drastic reduction in the population of sea cucumbers, the Union government decided to ban the collection of this marine organism in 2002 by amending the Wildlife Protection Act.
He said nearly 200 species of sea cucumbers are found in the coral reef colonies in India, of which 20 species were found in the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay regions in the State. Out of the 20, two were over-exploited and were exported in large number to Singapore from where they were distributed to Taiwan, China and Japan, where they are considered delicacies. Normally, the sea cucumbers are found in inter-tidal regions of the coast, along the sea grass and coral reef colonies.
The young ones were found in the waters close to the shore while adult ones were found in deep waters.
Increased trawler operations near the shore invariably disturbed the sea grass bed, resulting in the depletion of oxygen in the water leading to the death of sea cucumbers.
Sea cucumbers played a vital role in the marine ecological system, as they eat nutrients from the sea bed and bring it to the surface, thus helpingin availability of the nutrients to other organisms.