An endangered sea cucumber found in Aboitiz Cleanergy Park

September 26, 2022

An endangered sea cucumber found in Aboitiz Cleanergy Park

The sea cucumber puti-an, scientifically known as Holothuria scabra, is currently an Endangered (EN) species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List because its populations face a high risk of extinction in the wild. The risk is primarily attributed to overfishing because of its high value in the fishing trade.

The puti-an is one of the 1,250 known species of sea cucumbers that are related to starfish and sea urchins. All sea cucumbers are ocean dwellers, inhabiting both shallow and deep ocean. Commonly, they are gleaned in shallow seagrass beds or fished in deeper reefs by free- or compressor-diving.

Surprisingly, a rapid scanning conducted by the University of the Philippines Mindanao (UP Mindanao) researchers in September 2021 found the existence of the endangered puti-an at the beach area of the Aboitiz Cleanergy Park in Sitio Punta Dumalag, Matina Aplaya, Davao City. Back in 2015, the team also conducted a rapid scanning of the beach and the nearshore reef. However, the puti-an was not encountered inside the observation transects.

Edible sea cucumbers like the puti-an are exported to other Asian countries that consider it a delicacy. In the Philippines, no specific laws are directed at managing sea cucumbers so high-value species are overfished.

“To be classified by the IUCN as ‘endangered’ means that puti-an fisheries monitoring and regulations should be in place to prevent the species from being critically endangered or worse, extinct,” Dr. Ruth Gamboa, the lead researcher from UP Mindanao, explained.

Gamboa emphasized that they cannot truly verify if the puti-an has not existed in the area before the recent survey since their team only conducted a rapid scanning of the beach. She says the record of puti-an now is worth another study.

Besides the puti-an, the team also found a Vulnerable (Vu) species hanginan or Stichopus horrens. Vulnerable species means that their population is in a continuing decline and their rate of reproduction cannot catch up with the rate of harvest. “In time, there is a possibility that those species will also be endangered,” Gamboa added.

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Holothuria scabra or puti-an in and out of seawater

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Stichopus horrens or hanginan in and out of seawater

“We are happy about the findings of the rapid scanning conducted by UP Mindanao in the Aboitiz Cleanergy Park. It inspired us to continue our conservation efforts, not only for the endangered hawksbill sea turtles, but for the other marine species that consider the park a safe haven,” Rodger Velasco, President and COO of Davao Light said.

The IUCN Red List assesses the extinction rate of species populations on a global scale. And sometimes, a global category may be different when applied to a regional or national category. Currently, the Philippine Aquatic Red List Committee of the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) is conducting a national assessment of sea cucumber populations in the country.

The sea cucumbers are considered janitors of the sea floor. Their tentacles pick up tiny debris and waste materials that are small enough to fit their mouths. They form burrows in the sand that help loosen up the sediment, hasten the rate of decaying organisms, and mix the substrate preventing fouling of the ocean floor. These ‘janitors’, keep the coastal ecosystems, such as the Aboitiz Cleanergy Park, healthy and clean.

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Dr. Ruth Gamboa with field assistant, Brian Sabanal, captured photos of the sea cucumbers found at the Aboitiz Cleanergy Park.

The Aboitiz Cleanergy Park is an eight-hectare biodiversity park that is a known nesting ground for the Critically Endangered (CR) hawksbill turtles and is now a haven for other threatened marine species such as the sea cucumbers. The park is also considered as a haven for over 100 bird species, wherein 12 species are endemic in the Philippines.

The Aboitiz Cleanergy Park supports scientific studies for its management programs. It is managed by AboitizPower subsidiary Davao Light and Power Co., Inc., and Aboitiz Foundation, Inc.