MANILA, JUNE 8, 2009 (STAR) By Helen Flores - The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has allotted some P2.2 million for a research project that would help improve the production of sea cucumber in the country.

Sea cucumbers, known as bêche-de-mer in French, have long been a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Philippines and other Asian countries export sea cucumber in large quantities to China and other markets.

The three-year research project, headed by marine biologist Ruth Gamboa of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao, aims to boost production of sea cucumber, particularly in Davao.

The research team said they applied “low technology” for the project, which means using cost-effective procedures.

“We mix the sperm and the egg to come up with a new generation of sea cucumbers,” Gamboa said. “Experiments showed that H. scabara spawns three nights after the first quarter, while another variety called Bohaschia simillis spawns three nights after the full moon.”

“Timing is very important,” she said.

Gamboa said they used this new generation of sea cucumbers in determining the best way to grow sea cucumbers and develop steps to improve sea cucumber production.

“We found out through experiments that the sea cucumbers could manage to thrive by feeding on just one kind of algae,” Garcia said. Sea cucumber hatcheries commonly use or feed three kinds of algae, which makes the venture expensive.

Sea cucumbers are fast gaining recognition among European chefs, helping countries like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines export large quantities to China and other markets.

Asia and the Pacific are the top sea cucumber producing regions, generating some 20,000 to 40,000 tons per year.

Data from the FAO showed that the Philippines produced 1,079 tons of sea cucumber in 2004 valued at $2,176,000, which is 21.9 percent of the total world output.

Sea cucumber trading in the country dates back to late 18th century. It was shipped away in dried form called “trepang” to China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan.

The DOST, however, said the supply of sea cucumber is declining as a result of overfishing, lack of fishing regulations, and poor understanding of its ecology.

In a report, the FAO also identified other threats to sea cucumber populations such as global warming, habitat destruction and illegal fishing.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved