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Nurturing the Ocean's Unsung Heroes // A Deep Dive into Sustainable Sea Cucumber Aquaculture 

Updated: Feb 22

Rupert Hayward from Blue Action and David Grossman from Panasea at Sea Cucumber farm in Panama

At Blue Action Lab we are always on the lookout for climate resilient technologies and ecosystem restoration projects to join our living laboratory in Grand Bahama.  Recently, our team had the opportunity to visit Panasea, a sea cucumber farm with a focus on sustainable aquaculture, in Panama. As we toured their facility and learned more about their operations, we were able to gain valuable insights into the importance of sustainable aquaculture in the local community and the role that sea cucumbers play in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem.

David Grossman, founder of Panasea, describes sea cucumbers as the "unsung hero of the ocean." He explains that "if we don't do something now, sea cucumbers will be extinct in 20 years. Before the year 2000, we had a carpet of sea cucumbers. Wherever there was sea grass or reefs, there would be sea cucumbers. Imagine what would happen if you removed all the earthworms from a forest. We need to put a billion sea cucumbers back into the water to restore the ecosystem of the reefs."

Holothuria Mexicana Sea Cucumber species at Panasea farm

Sea cucumbers are commonly referred to as the "vacuum cleaners” of the sea due to their role in overturning and aerating sediments on the ocean floor. They remove toxins and pollutants from the water through their feeding and digestion processes. This process is crucial in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems and preventing the accumulation of harmful substances. 

Their impact on the sea grass ecosystem is significant. Through their constant movement and feeding behavior, they prevent the accumulation of algae on sea grass leaves, enabling them to freely photosynthesize, thrive, and provide important habitats for a variety of marine species. Without sea cucumbers, the health of sea grass ecosystems would suffer, disrupting the delicate balance of marine life and potentially causing negative impacts on the entire marine ecosystem.

Another extraordinary characteristic of sea cucumbers is their ability to store large amounts of carbon within their bodies, making them significant contributors to the ocean as a carbon sink. When sea cucumbers breathe, they take in water through their mouths and pass it through their respiratory tree. The walls of the respiratory tree are lined with tiny hair-like structures called cilia, which help to move the water and capture oxygen and other gases. As the water passes through the respiratory tree, oxygen is absorbed, and carbon dioxide is released. 

Environmental contributions aside, sea cucumbers have been found to possess miraculous medicinal properties. Studies have shown that sea cucumbers contain compounds with anti-tumor effects and the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. They also contain high levels of taurine, an amino acid linked to improved heart health by regulating blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease. Additionally, sea cucumbers are rich in collagen, an essential component for maintaining skin elasticity and reducing signs of aging. By protecting and preserving sea cucumber populations, we may potentially discover new treatments for a variety of diseases.

Grossman explains that Panasea's mission is twofold: to meet the global demand for sea cucumbers, which have become depleted due to overfishing, and to regenerate local populations of sea cucumbers in the Caribbean. This approach not only addresses the economic impact of overfishing, but also tackles the pressing environmental issues facing our oceans.

Panasea's sustainable aquaculture practices are crucial in addressing the depletion of sea cucumbers and promoting their regeneration. By farming sea cucumbers instead of relying on wild-caught specimens, Panasea is actively contributing to the restoration of local sea cucumber populations. This approach not only ensures a sustainable supply of sea cucumbers but also has positive environmental impacts, such as reducing overfishing and promoting the growth of healthy coral reefs.

Furthermore, Panasea's operations have a significant impact on the local community. By providing economic opportunities in Caribbean regions, the company is helping to improve the livelihoods of local residents. This triple-bottom-line approach, which considers environmental and societal impacts in addition to economic ones, is a testament to Panasea's commitment to sustainability.

Our visit to Panasea was a fascinating deep dive into sustainable sea cucumber aquaculture. As the demand for sea cucumbers continues to rise, it is crucial to support companies like Panasea that are taking a responsible and environmentally-conscious approach to meeting this demand. By choosing to support sustainable aquaculture, we can all play a part in protecting our oceans and ensuring the continued health of marine ecosystems.

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