Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 18, 2022


Alex Olivera, +52 612 1040604,

Nations Vote to Restrict Trade in 3 Imperiled Indo-Pacific Sea Cucumbers

PANAMA CITY— Parties to CITES voted today to protect the pineapple sea cucumber, the amberfish sea cucumber and the red-lined or ‘candycane’ sea cucumber. All species are threatened by trade and will be protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Exports of these Indo-Pacific species will now only be allowed by permit and only if trade is determined to be sustainable.

“Sea cucumbers need all the help they can get right now, and protecting them under CITES is a great start,” said Alex Olivera, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, from the meeting in Panama. “If sea cucumber trade is going to happen, we need to make sure it’s sustainable, before it’s too late for these species. This proposal will also compel nations to gather essential data for monitoring trade, and that could fight the boom-and-bust cycle of exploitation that sea cucumbers face from fisheries.”

The endangered pineapple sea cucumber, sought out as a food delicacy, has declined by 80% to 90% in at least half its habitat. Despite being uncommon, the amberfish sea cucumber, the largest commercial sea cucumber, is increasingly targeted in fisheries. The beautiful red-striped candycane sea cucumber is very rare and in demand in the aquarium trade.

All three species belong to the genus Thelenota and are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation.

“Research studies have shown that these species in the genus Thelenota are slow-growing and don’t move far in a year,” said Steven Purcell, an associate professor at Southern Cross University and a renowned specialist on sea cucumbers. “That makes them more vulnerable to overfishing.”

Sea cucumber harvesting began to skyrocket in the late 1980s because of increasing international demand, and prices are up to 12 times what they were a decade ago. The main threat to these soft-bodied marine creatures today is overfishing for human consumption in the international bêche-de-mer market. Sea cucumbers are also dried and consumed as a health aid, primarily in Asia, but the trend is increasing around the globe.

Global catch and production (including aquaculture) of sea cucumber fisheries is estimated to have increased by up to 16 times what was being caught two or three decades ago.

Sea cucumbers are the vacuum cleaners of the seabed. They recycle nutrients for other organisms and are very efficient at processing reef sediments. The amberfish has the highest rates of sediment processing ever recorded for a sea cucumber, with each animal cleaning at least 14 buckets of reef sand per year. The widespread loss of these creatures has also led to a more hardened and less oxygenated sea bed, reducing habitat quality for other bottom-dwelling species that thrive in sedimentary environments.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

center locations