Sea cucumbers are not your average seafood. Aside from their unusual appearance, they are much harder to find in the sea when compared with other common sea animals. But, their rarity, which is highly dependent on their appearance, still isn't enough to deter people from diving deep into the reserves of the sea to find them — not even when it endangers their lives!
Sea cucumbers aren't the most aesthetically pleasing but that doesn't make them any less expensive. According to recent reports, about 1 kilo can cost over $3,000!
Sea cucumbers are known for their unusual appearance; they don't have limbs or eyes but possess a mouth and an anus controlled by their different organs. Their outer skin also contributes to their quirky looks as it features numerous spikes.
There are over 1,000 different species of sea cucumber in the world, and the spikier the animals, the higher their price. According to studies, the Japanese sea cucumber is the most expensive because it is also the rarest to find.
Although they don't look like it, sea cucumbers are special; just ask Steven Purcell, one of the world's greatest experts on sea cucumbers. Eating sea cucumbers has lasted for decades and can be traced to Asia where they were popularly enjoyed as a rich protein treat by the elites.
In the 1980s, they became even more popular as China's middle class grew exponentially, indicating that more people could afford the luxurious meal. To date, sea cucumbers are still popular among the wealthiest class and are typically dried and packaged in elaborately ornamented boxes, that are then given as gifts and served on special occasions.
So, the fancier and quirkier the sea cucumbers look, the rarer and more expensive they are!
The popularity of sea cucumbers also extends to healthcare around the world as Asians have discovered that their skin contains high levels of a chemical called fucosylated glycosaminoglycan that can treat joint problems like arthritis for centuries. More recently in Europe, people are using sea cucumbers to treat certain cancers and to reduce blood clots.
However, the search for uncommon sea cucumbers is perilous. The creatures have become even harder to find so divers have to go deeper in the sea subjecting themselves to different dangers. Furthermore, there are reports that around 40 Yucatan divers have died trying to harvest sea cucumbers.
"Some countries, they're doing that without a lot of training. In some of the tropical countries, you're getting a lot of people either becoming paralyzed through decompression sickness."
As demand for sea cucumbers continues to increase, there is an increasingly disturbing shortage of the animals. Of the 70 or more species of exploited sea cucumbers, 7 are now classified as endangered, all through exploitation, forcing numerous fisheries worldwide to shut down and damaging local economies in the process.
Thus, the widespread promotion of aquaculture among important Asian marketers in order to curb the extinction of the special creature.
Have you ever had sea cucumbers? What did you think?