219 sea cucumbers worth Rs1.17 crore seized in largest seizure in Lakshadweep
After four people were arrested at Lakshadweep last week for illegal trade in sea cucumbers, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) wrote to the environment ministry on Tuesday seeking more protection for the marine species.
Sea cucumbers, which range in size up to six feet (1.8 metres) long, are used across Southeast Asia, mainly China, as food and in preparing traditional medicines. The species is listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972, and has the same degree of protection as tigers, leopards or elephants.
On Saturday afternoon, based on a tip-off, officials from the forest department, fisheries and local researchers intercepted a boat near Agatti island. “Around 12.30 pm, we entered the boat and found the entire vessel filled with dried and live sea cucumbers worth Rs 1.17 crore,” said Damodhar AT, secretary environment and forest and chief wildlife warden, Lakshadweep.
The team seized 219 sea cucumbers, weighing 234 kg. Out of the total, 46 were live large sea cucumbers( weighing 1.5 to 2 kg each), 74 were dry, small and medium-sized ones ( weighing 300 to 600 grams), and 99 other large ones were stored in preservatives. All cucumbers had been packed and were ready to be transported.
The accused were fishermen from Kavaratti and were remanded to judicial custody for 14 days.
The forest department said that interrogating the accused revealed the trade route for the species. “This network spreads across different countries. From Lakshadweep, the sea cucumbers are supplied to Kochi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and then sent across to Sri Lanka, and further to Southeast Asian countries, mainly China. “The second route passes through Maldives and straight across to China and neighbouring countries,” added Damodhar.
One kg of sea cucumber can be sold for around Rs. 50,000. Some fishermen make Rs 2 lakh in a day doing the illegal trade.
In India, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have most varieties of sea cucumbers, followed by Lakshadweep, Gulf of Mannar and Gulf of Kutch. The species is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to which India is a signatory. A total ban on harvesting of sea cucumbers was imposed in 2001 under the WPA by the Union environment ministry.
Experts said that these species are ecological indicators for any marine habitat. “They enhance the productivity of coral reefs apart from playing a crucial role in the food chain. They maintain over all stability of the ocean sea floor in terms of oxygenation,” said E Vivekandan, former chief scientist, Central Marine Fisheries Research Insitute.
“There is a need to tell the fishing community that the health of the reefs depends upon these sea cucumbers. It is in the interest of the community to protect these species to ensure the reefs survive as sea surface temperatures are rising every year,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.