FACT SHEET 12
• Sea cucumbers belong to the phylum Echinodermata (meaning animals with a prickly skin) and are related to starfish and sea urchins.
• They live on the sea floor, mostly around sandy and silty areas, and feed on the decaying organic matter found on the floor of the ocean. They have specialised mouth tentacles to consume sand and its contents. The organic particles are digested whilst the sand is expelled through the anus. Sea cucumbers are often called the vacuum cleaners or recyclers of the sea as they clean the sand of any debris.
• Some sea cucumbers expel a mass of sticky white thread when threatened to entangle or confuse attackers.
• Most sea cucumbers reproduce by spawning, releasing their eggs and sperm into the water (like coral) which join together to produce larvae.
• In some Asian countries, certain sea cucumbers (also known by their French name: beche-de-mer) are considered a delicacy and are farmed for human consumption. This is an important export industry for Australia
. • Reef Check Australia identify and monitor edible sea cucumbers. We record the following species: Thelenota ananas, Stichopus chloronotus and holothuria. We record and monitor the amount of these species because they recycle nutrients from dead animals and plants. In the absence of sea cucumbers, many nutrients would be lost in the sediments, eventually leading to the decline in the size of all populations.
Interesting Fact: Some large sea cucumbers have a symbiotic relationship with a small fish, which lives in their anus!
• ReefED GBR Explorer: http://www.reefed.edu.au/home/explorer/animals/marine_invertebrates/echinoderms/sea_cucumbers
• Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_cucumber
• Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries: www.dpi.qld.gov.au (Information on the beche-de-mer commercial fishing industry in Queensland.