Shovel of the Sea

Sea cucumber

Despite its looks, sea cucumbers, or beche-de-mer, are related to starfish and sea urchins. Basically an elongated leathery tube, is held in shape by an endoskeleton, at one end are tentacles which the sea cucumber uses to forage in the sea floor mud and sand for plankton and decaying organic material. They are good scavengers

sea cucumber

At this lagoon, a programme of research has been carried out which includes measuring the sea cucumbers, some of which can grow up to two feet (50-60cm).

Sea cucumber

The name sea cucumber derives from their shape, and beche-de-mer means shovel of the sea, both appropriate handles for this squidgy tube.

Sea cucumber

Last week I wrote about traditional harvesting of taro in Ontong Java, in the Solomon Islands. This week's posting concerns the same location, and another traditional method of catching food.

Sea Cucumber

They have been an important cash-crop for the Islanders, and when NHNZ was filming the chief of the island they visited had already banned scuba diving, insisting that fishing was carried out using the traditional spiked harpoon. In addition he had instigated closed seasons to try to increase numbers to their original levels.

Sea Cucumber

Beche-de-mer are a delicacy throughout South East Asia, China and Japan, where its gelatinous texture adds to soups and stews.

Sea Cucumber

Overfishing is not just a problem in the Solomon Islands, where the Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources has levied a ban on exporting beche-de-mer since December 2005. This was based on careful research, and a knowledge that populations can quickly become depleted. For instance Egypt’s fishery collapsed five years after it started.

Sea Cucumber

These photos are still frames from NHNZ Images footage, which is available for purchase in your production.