talking points for nature guides
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For nature guides: introducing sea cucumbers
updated Oct 08

Don't step on the sea cucumbers!
Buried Ball sea cucumbers are a good subject to sensitise visitors to the fact that every inch of the shore is alive. Dig one up in front of them and this usually amazes them. This illustrates that just because we can't see the animals, doesn't mean there are none.

  • Do you think there are any animals in this sand bar? Well, it may seem dead and lifeless, but the sand bar is full of buried animals. Here's one large sea cucumber.

  • Some points to note
    • Don't show the visitors how to tell where a sea cucumber is buried to avoid too many people digging them up just for fun.
    • After digging it up, transfer the sea cucumber to a pot filled with seawater so that the sea cucumber is not too stressed and people don't pass the sea cucumber hand to hand.
    • You can let them touch it gently but don't let people squeeze the sea cucumber.
    • When you have finished explaining the sea cucumber, bury it back and point out that you are burying it with the animal's mouth and anus facing towards the sand surface.

What are sea cucumbers?

  • They are not vegetables! Despite their common names, they are not vegetables. They are animals!

  • How does the sea cucumber protect itself? The sea cucumber is a soft animal without teeth or spines. How is it that no one has eaten it? Can you guess?.
    • Many protect themselves with toxins
    • Some hide in the sand.

  • Sea cucumbers are fragile! When stressed, a sea cucumber may expell its guts or other noxious substances. These may irritate your skin and may hurt you if these get into your eyes or mouth. Please don't make sea cucumbers expel their intestines. Not all do this. Those that do cannot eat until they re-grow their innards.
Sea cucumbers and you

Some species of sea cucumbers are sadly overharvested as a delicacy. Many of these species are threatened by over-collection for the trade. Tests indicate these sea cucumbers contain toxins. They must be properly prepared before they are safe to eat. You cannot just put a sea cucumber straight from the shore into a pot to safely eat it.

Sea cucumber myths to dispel
  • It is NOT true that all sea cucumbers can expel their innards. Please don't make sea cucumbers expel their intestines. Not all do this. Those that do cannot eat until they re-grow their innards.

  • Can I take this sea cucumber home to eat? Tests indicate these sea cucumbers contain toxins. They must be properly prepared before they are safe to eat. You cannot just put a sea cucumber straight from the shore into a pot to safely eat it.
Handling tips

Finding sea cucumbers Most are well hidden. Some burrow into the sand leaving only tell-tale signs on the surface. Others hide under stone or among coral rubble.

Don't teach visitors how to spot buried sea cucumbers in the sand to avoid too many people digging them up just for fun.

Don't step on sea cucumbers They are living animals. Sometimes, sea cucumbers are washed ashore and found among debris and seaweeds.

Don't remove sea cucumbers out of water
they need sea water the way we need blood.

Don't squeeze sea cucumbers! Don't poke or squeeze them to make them eject their guts. This is cruel as they may need this for their defense and they need resources to replenish their guts. Meanwhile, they cannot eat.

Return sea cucumbers where you found them: They move slowly and some need to be in specific locations. If you dig one up, put it back the RIGHT WAY (with the mouth and anus facing the sand surface).
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