Fact Zap

What are sea cucumbers ?

Sea cucumbers are deep sea animals. They come in many shapes, size and colors.There are more than 1800 species of sea cucumbers. Sea cucumbers are valuable to coral reefs. They keep microbe growth under control, break down complex chemicals into nutrients, maintains nitrogen cycle and more.

Sea cucumber and sea apple illustration by fact-zap

Sea cucumbers move along the ocean floor eating dead plants and animals. They digest dead matter into simple compounds. Their poop is rich in nutrients. Corals and algae absorb these nutrients and grow well. Studies show that coral reefs with a good sea cucumber population withstand ocean warming and other threats, maintaining their bio-diversity.

How Sea cucumbers move ?

There are more than 1800 species of sea cucumbers. Most of them are cylindrical in shape like a cucumber. They have small tube feets with suckers. Looking for food, they move along the ocean floor making the sand loose, helping air circulate through the sea floor. If not for them, sand on the sea floor will be hard and tough.

Sea cucumber diet

Sea cucumbers are called earthworms of the ocean. Farmer on Earth like earthworms because they eat soil, digest it and poop out nutrients. This makes soil fertile. Sea cucumbers do the same. They have tentacles around their mouth to trap planktons, dead and decomposing matter. Sea cucumbers digest it and poop out the broken down nutrients. Their poop is nitrogen rich. It is a good fertilizer for corals and algaeon the sea floor. Sea cucumbers break down complex compounds like calcium carbonate, breaking it down in to calcium and carbon.

Sea Apples

There are many types of sea cucumbers. Sea Apple is one of them. Sea apples look like a colourful pot with small feet running down their walls. They have a snout with tentacles. Unlike most Sea cucumbers, Sea apples do not move. Their tentacles trap planktons and other organic matter in water.

Say No to Sea Apples

Sea apples are hunted and sold to aquarium owners. They are colorful and make an exotic addition to aquariums. But Aquariums do not make a good home for Sea Apples. Without a constant supply of dead organic matter to feed on, Sea Apples cannot live long in aquariums. They cannot survive for long, yet are in demand as an aquarium decor.

Sea Cucumbers status and conservation

Sea cucumbers are a food delicacy. Overfishing has reduced their population. Few species have become extinct and many are fast disappearing. Without sea cucumbers, sea beds will become barren and coral reefs will be at risk. Sea cucumbers are important to marine ecosystems.

Research indicates underwater nurseries for sea cucumbers are effective in increasing their population. Locating the nursery in a coral reef helps protect the reef. Countries around the world are stepping up efforts to protect Sea cucumbers by regulating rules and fishing licesnses. Next time you see Sea cucumbers on the menu card, remember they belong to the sea, not on our dinner plates.