Sea cucumbers are a prized aphrodisiac in China.
But like many coastal species they have been chronically overfished.
One remote community in Madagascar has started a pioneering coastal-farming project with astonishing results.
The ocean is facing environmental catastrophe.
Overfishing is a ticking time bomb for both planet and people.
In one remote coastal village the locals appear to have found an unlikely solution.
A strange little sea creature that’s a popular aphrodisiac and just possibly a fisherman’s salvation.
In the first business of its kind in Madagascar, Dadiny has recently started farming these animals.
Sea cucumbers are under threat.
Growing them in designated and contained areas is helping to protect both this important species and other kinds of marine life here in the south-west of Madagascar.
Because of the part sea cucumbers play in cleaning up the seabed it’s believed that they help maintain stocks of other marine life.
In this region, not just sea cucumbers, but all kinds of marine life have suffered from chronic overfishing.
When marine conservationist Alasdair Harris first visited Madagascar in 2001 he was shocked to discover the extent of this devastation.
To reduce this overfishing the NGO that Alasdair runs helped train 700 local fishermen and women in small-scale sustainable sea-cucumber farming.
It’s meant many locals are no longer using the techniques that contributed to overfishing in this region. Alasdair’s research suggests fish stocks have doubled here since 2006.
But it is not marine conservation that has fundamentally persuaded the local population to buy in to aquaculture - It’s hard economics.
There’s a strong demand for sea cucumbers in Asia where they’re prized as an aphrodisiac.
Farmers here can now make up to $50 a month, about twice that of a regular fisherman.
While this is still substantially below the average global wage, it’s brought dramatic improvements in the local quality of life.
NGOs, including Alasdair’s, are now working on similar farming ventures in other coastal villages around Madagascar.
Localised efforts can only go so far in countering the vast damage to ecosystems across the ocean.
But in the face of an increasingly urgent crisis that could still be a very long way.
While ordinary vegetable cucumbers cost $3 per kilo, sea cucumbers can cost over $3,000 per kilo.
These animals are prized as a delicacy in Asia, and are used by pharmaceutical companies to treat diseases like cancer.
Unfortunately, over-harvesting now threatens many sea cucumber populations
The eating behavior of some sea cucumber is definitely stunning