UP-MSI study highlights cultural integration for bigger sea cucumbers, better incomes

A study conducted by Marine Environment and Resources Foundation, Inc. at the University of the Philippines Diliman-Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) found that an innovation on the integrated culture systems with sea cucumber has the potential to produce larger sizes of sea cucumber and could create additional sources of income to small fisher households.

Aimed to develop an integrative culture system approach that can diversify local sustainable mariculture that does not negatively impact the environment, while increasing income streams in the municipal fishery sector, the study, led by Dr. Marie Antonette Juinio-Meñez, was implemented in three barangays in the municipality of Bolinao, Pangasinan.

H.scabra, commonly called sea cucumber, was cultured with sea urchins, rabbitfish, and mussels. These species belong to complementary low trophic level feeding groups (i.e. deposit feeders, grazers, filter feeders) that can recycle nutrients in the water column and the sediment. The selection of sites for the co-culture and multitrophic culture systems took into consideration the environmental factors including type of habitat suitable for the species as well as the availability of prospective community partners who could be engaged in the area. 

Pilot trials for  five culture systems were conducted in barangays Victory, Binabalian, and Pinairingan, Bolinao, Pangasinan to validate the performance of the systems introduced. 

Results indicated that sea cucumber can be co-cultured with sea urchins and rabbitfish. Sea cucumber cultured with free-ranged sea urchins and with rabbitfish had higher growth rates than those with caged sea urchins. The removal of the sea urchin cages will eventually reduce the material cost when scaling this culture system. The integration of sea urchins and siganids as secondary species in the rearing of sea cucumber can increase the sources of food and livelihood of small-scale fishers in Bolinao, Pangasinan.

Since washed out Sargassum (seaweed) debris is added as feed for the sea urchins in the field, laboratory experiments were conducted at the Bolinao Marine Laboratory of the UPMSI to determine if the feces of sea urchins fed with Sargassum improves the growth of sea cucumber juveniles. Results showed that sea cucumber preferred Sargassum sp.-enriched sediment areas and the best growth performance was observed in the sediment enriched with sea urchin’s feces.

Dr. Meñez reiterated that the development of new technologies as well as improvement of existing ones would improve aquaculture production and reduce dependence on wild-caught sea cucumber, thus contributing to conservation efforts. Integrative culture system approach in sea cucumber production could help address the concerns in supply and value chain in the sea cucumber industry in the country.

Further, the small-scale environment-friendly culture production systems could benefit small fishers and households with the supplemental source of income from the culture system and, at the same time, help rebuild depleted natural stocks. (### Maria Elena M. Garces)