OK, Hand up! Who Eats Sea Cucumber?
Dateline February 24, 2014…. Belize’s alleged Sea Cucumber Queen was busted and remanded to gaol.
Now, we think this is an interesting story because how many people are familiar with the sea cucumber, and the huge illegal trade in this most humble of marine animals?
If you’ve done a fair amount of diving or snorkeling (and who amidst the turquoise beauty of Belize hasn’t?), you’ll have seen the innocuous-looking critters on the sea floor, and immediately understand how they got their name. They do look like cucumbers past their use-by date that have spent too much time on the sea floor. Other varieties are more distinctive, covered with squared spike type thingies that make them look, to us, anyway, kind of cool.
Well, cool-ish. Let’s be honest – there’s nothing very striking about sea cucumbers.
For most of us, that is…
But read Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, James A Michener and those writers of the South Seas and you’ll come across them…
Often known as trepang, bêche-de-mer or balate, they are highly prized in Asia, going for some $300 a pound in Chinese markets.
And like many things prized in huge markets, Asian or otherwise, they drive an illegal trade that often raises havoc with the natural order of things Target one species, and you throw the rest out of whack. Think shark fins, rhinoceros horns, elephant tusks and the like.
Here in the Caribbean Sea off the shores of the Yucatán Peninsula near fishing ports such as Dzilam de Bravo, illegal harvesting has devastated the population of sea cucumbers and resulted in conflict in the community as rival gangs struggle to control the illegal harvest.
No kidding. Rival gangs of sea cucumber pirates. It would be embarrassing if it weren’t so destructive.
And the week of February 24 2014, Guatemalans Georgina Maribel Mendez Aldana, her common-law husband Hugo Salas, and their associate, Cesar Gerardo Ramirez were put behind bars for allegedly being involved in the destructive trade.
They plead guilty for, among other things, being in possession of 7,033 sea cucumbers, weighing 3 thousand pounds, which were destined for illegal export from Belize
That’s a lot of sea cucumbers, and the impact on the ocean floor and our marine life is enormous.
Described in Belize media as the “Queen Pin” (a dubious title at best) of the trade, Ms Aldana, Salas, Ramirez and Logan were stopped in a black GMC pick-up truck on the George Price Highway with 7,033 Sea Cucumbers allegedly in the back of the vehicle.
Apparently, they also had a forged document, a 2013 permit tampered to make it look valid.
Now, unable to pay the fine, Ms Aldana and her crew have been remanded and are expected back in court.
We don’t want to make light of this (although image of the raised jolly roger flag of a skull and crossed sea cucumbers is hard to resist) because this is a seriously destructive trade with implications worldwide. Any time one species is targeted others will suffer, and there is a very good reason for global enforcement of the fisheries trade.
Sustainability, just like eco-tourism and responsible travel go hand in, and at Chaa Creek and the Belize Natural History Centre we salute all efforts to ensure that the world’s resources are well managed for all of us, and our children’s’ children to enjoy far into the future.
So good work officers! We salute your efforts.