Holothurians, also known as sea cucumbers, are an important source of income for coastal communities in the Pacific. Their exploitation has grown over the past decades, targeting international markets. In some parts of the world, they are considered a delicacy where they can fetch very high prices consequently, they are being overfished in some areas of the Pacific region.
In 2021 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) added two of the highest value sea cucumber species to its Appendix 2 list, which means that exporting countries are now required to prove that these species are fished in a sustainable way otherwise exporting them is prohibited.
Organised by the Pacific Community (SPC), in the framework of the PROTEGE project, two training sessions on the identification of sea cucumbers, and particularly of the two CITES-listed species, were organised for New-Caledonian local authorities on 18 and 19 July, with representatives of the Fiji Ministry of Fisheries assisting with the training.
The training included a presentation of the provisions of the environment code relating to sea cucumber fishing in New Caledonia, explanations by the Veterinary, Food and Phytosanitary Inspection Service (SIVAP) about the implications of a CITES listing of species, and a step-by-step process to correctly identify 14 species of sea cucumbers, in their live and processed forms. The training is one of the actions held by SPC’s Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability (CCES) and Fisheries Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Divisions to promote sustainable ecosystems management.
The training was held at a local exporter's processing plant, which allowed participants to handle and observe the sea cucumber species they should be able to identify. To further assist, an identification guide produced by SPC for New Caledonia was distributed to each participant. A test to validate the knowledge acquired was organised at the end of the day. Its success rate reached 100%!
Sea cucumbers are vital to many communities in the Pacific Islands region, providing a rare opportunity for cash income, particularly in remote areas. They also play a critical role in the health of the marine environment by cleaning the sediments from which they extract their food. They support the development of seagrass beds, which are refuge and food for marine organisms such as fish, dugongs and turtles. For all these reasons, the proper management of this resource is of paramount importance.
The Pacific Community will organise other training sessions in New Caledonia in September and will develop similar trainings for the region in coming months.
Know more about holothurians of commercial interest in the tropical Pacific: https://bit.ly/3oEWVHw
Would you like to learn more about how to identify holothurians? Watch these video tutorials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cWawjqWVLU
PROTEGE (“Pacific Territories Regional Project for Sustainable Ecosystem Management” or “protect” in French) is an initiative designed to promote sustainable and climate-change-resilient economic development in the European Pacific overseas countries and territories (OCT) by emphasising biodiversity and renewable resources. Implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), PROTEGE is a regional cooperation project that supports the public policies of the four Pacific OCTs, i.e. New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis & Futuna and Pitcairn.