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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (November 23, 2001 – Marshall Islands Journal)---The Marshal Islands Science Station (MISS) -- the College of the Marshall Islands’ research center near Laura -- has produced substantial research during the past year on sea cucumber (bêche-de-mer) growth that can be used to support restocking and future commercial development in the RMI.

Marine scientists Jean-Francois Hamel and Annie Mercier said before their recent departure that they have been able to "develop the knowledge and useful recipes" for growing sea cucumbers in RMI that can be used to produce an adequate supply of the marine animals.

They indicated that throughout the South Pacific and Asia -- they mentioned specifically the Solomon Islands, Australia and Indonesia -- that the focus has been on restocking supplies of sea cucumbers in the waters of village communities because when sold, the money stays with the villages.

They believe that the key for the Marshall Islands, if it wants to pursue what for other countries has been a very lucrative trade in sea cucumber exports, is to set in motion a system of sustainable use of the cucumbers. This requires, first, that supplies be restocked throughout the country.

Currently, Mercier said, there’s a relatively good stock of sea cucumbers in Majuro and probably also in the outer islands. "It’s encouraging;" said Hamel. "Sea cucumbers are relatively healthy."

But, he added, commercial exploitation of the existing stock could easily wipe out the supply in a matter of two months.

"Once depleted, it takes years to re-stock," Mercier said.

Generally speaking, it takes l2-18 months to grow a sea cucumber in the wild. Millions can be produced annually "if there is dedication and interest from local people to do it," Hamel said.

Their research has identified various needs of the baby sea cucumbers when they’re in the spawning stage, how they settle in a new habitat, and how they grow in the wild.

Their research was focused on developing knowledge that will provide the "restocking tools" that can help people in the community interested in pursuing sea cucumbers to develop a production at sustainable levels.

Mercier said at such an early stage in the development of sea cucumbers locally, she was hesitant to talk about the significant economic potential of sea cucumbers for fear that it would encourage people to exploit and wipe out existing resources without putting into place sustainable practices.

Over a two-to-three year period, with proper supervision, it would be possible to restock certain atolls or sites within atolls. Then it would be possible to begin rotating harvests from one site to another for commercial use in such a way as to avoid depleting the supply.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has funded some of the sea cucumber research at the MISS facility.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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