Wildlife officials in Hawaii are set to fill the area’s ponds with sea cucumbers described as “dark maggots.”
According to Kauaʻi Sea Farms, the Pacific American Foundation and the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are currently trying to breed three different types of sea cucumbers. They hope to turn them into high-value export products while adding new life to the ecosystem.
The project is now underway in the Nomilo fishpond on the southwest shore of Kauai, Hawaii. This pond, which sits in an extinct volcanic crater, is one of the oldest and most fertile in the entire state of Hawaii.
According to wildlife experts, 488 of these so-called loko i’a call Hawaii home. Hawaiians created their ancient aquaculture systems to support the practice of sustainable fish farming thousands of years ago.
Sadly, however, after Hawaii became a western state in the early 20th century, many loko i’a fell into degeneration.
The nomilo Loko i’a had been lost since 1992 following Hurricane Iniki’s destruction, which trapped seawater channels, and ruined the flow of nutrients from the pond and sea.
Now, thanks to people’s efforts to restore the habitat, Nomilo is a healthy community of native species. However, according to experts, the road to complete rehabilitation is long.
“We’re hoping this project could help address some challenges loko i’a face including water quality, viable food sources, and revenue to support restoration and management,” said NOAA aquaculture specialist Tori Spence.
You may be disappointed if you try to pick up sea cucumbers during your next grocery run. They’re a group of marine animals found throughout the globe. Their bodies resemble cucumbers with tiny feet and can grow up to six feet in length. In addition, they’re also considered a delicacy across many cultures, particularly in East and Southeast Asia.
Wildlife experts hope to foster sustainable sea cucumbers in new project
According to Kaua’i Sea Farm: “Sea cucumbers are a keystone species for nearshore ecosystems that are being overfished throughout the world due to high-value export markets.”
However, experts say breeding them has other benefits as well. For example, sea cucumbers act as underwater janitors, shoveling waste and other residues on the pond floor. With this, they improve the quality of the water.
“[This] increases the number of fish that can thrive in the pond at once,” said David Anderson, production manager at Kaua’i Sea Farm.
The project also focuses on raising three species of sea cucumber native to the islands: surf redfish and white catfish, which are used widely in Chinese food and medicine, and Bamako, a species prevalent in Japanese cuisine.
First, the project will grow juveniles in solar-powered hatchery tanks. Then, the staff will conduct trials in various pond environments to study how the animals survive under different conditions.
Later, Anderson and his team will collaborate with Hawaii Sea Grant to create manuals on raising and sustaining different species.
“This project is investing in an opportunity to use restorative aquaculture to produce a potentially high-value export product,” added Anderson. “At the same time, it will restore the fishponds and increase the production of fish for the community.”