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New Caledonia conference seeks preservation

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 10, 2011) – A strange ocean creature, the sea cucumber - mainstay for many fishing villages in the Pacific and Asia - is under threat because of high demand as food and medicine.

The future of the invertebrate, also known as the sea slug, beche-de-mer and trepang, is the focus of a conference in New Caledonia next week.

It will hear of progress in efforts to establish breeding programs for sea cucumbers in Pacific Island communities.

The meeting has been organised by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and will map out ways of preserving the species most at risk.

The greatest predator of the sea cucumber is the export market, particularly to Asia, where it is in high demand for food and medicinal purposes.

Scientists say while sea cucumbers play an important ecological role in marine life, they are also a critical source of cash income for many poor and remote coastal communities throughout the Asia Pacific region.

Dr Chris Barlow, program research manager for the ACIAS, told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat the ability to culture sea cucumbers could create opportunities for income.

He said it is vital to look at ways to boost stocks and there are many options to be discussed

"Do we put them out on to sea beds, where we grow them up to a large size and harvest them, or do we replenish wild stocks?" he asked. "Do we leave them out there and hope they will breed - thus build up the natural stocks? Or do we grow them in ponds, do we grow them in tanks etc? All of these things are options for the fish once you've bred them."


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