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Phylum Echinodermata > Class Holothuroidea
Garlic bread sea cucumber
Holothuria scabra
Family Holothuriidae
updated Jan 14
Where seen? This large loaf-shaped sea cucumber is often seen in the seagrass meadows of our Northern and Southern shores. While small ones usually remain buried in the sand, larger ones might be found above the ground. Younger sea cucumbers are usually found nearer the shore. As they grow bigger, they move into deeper waters to breed.

Features: 15-20cm long, elsewhere said to grow to 40cm. Rather flat square-ended loaf-shaped body with a distinct upper and underside. The upperside is darker and often has little folds and sometimes, black bars; thus shore guides often jokingly refer to it as the 'Garlic bread' sea cucumber because that's what it looks like. The underside is flat and pale or white. There are little tube feet regularly distributed all over the body.

What does it eat? It feeds on and gathers detritus with the 20 or so short feeding tentacles that surround its mouth which usually faces downwards towards the ground.

Pea crabs (Pinnotheres sp.) are sometimes found living in their rear ends! These cannot be seen unless the animal is killed and dissected, so please do not prod the sea cucumber to try to see these crabs.

Role in the habitat: A study has found that this sea cucumber plays an important role in the health of seagrasses. Much like terrestrial earthworms, by eating sediments and burrowing in the ground, the sea cucumber makes more nutrients available to the seagrasses. More about this on the Echinoblog. According to the IUCN Red List, juveniles settle in shallow seagrass beds and prefer seagrass such as Sickle seagrass (Thallassia hemprichi) as well as mangrove areas.

Human uses: This harmless sea cucumber is among those collected as a Chinese delicacy. They are gutted and dried for sale as ‘trepang’ or ‘beche-de-mer’. It is called sandfish in the trade. Growing up to 40cm and weighing up to 1.5kg, it is considered the most widely collected and among the more valuable sources of beche-de-mer. Tests indicate these sea cucumbers contain toxins. They must be properly prepared before they are safe to eat.

Collection of sea cucumbers has been a traditional activity for centuries by coastal peoples in many parts of the world ranging from Madagascar to the Philippines. However, the recent high market price of this delicacy has resulted in increased collection in last 20 years. Some edible sea cucumbers are globally threatened by over-collection. In some areas, such sea cucumbers have become scarce. In others, specimens collected are smaller and have to be harvested from deeper waters. Efforts to culture edible sea cucumbers have only just started.

Status and threats: The Garlic bread sea cucumber is listed as 'Vulnerable' on the Red List of threatened animals of Singapore. It is threatened by habitat loss due to coastal development. Overcollection can also have an impact on local populations. According to the IUCN Red List, global populations of the Garlic bread sea cucumbers are estimated to have declined by more than 90% in at least 50% of its range, and are considered overexploited in at least 30% of its range.

Chek Jawa, Jul 08


Upperside


Short tube feet


Often buried or half buried.
Beting Bemban Besar, Jun 09

Distinct underside.

Mouth with short feeding tentacles.


Cyrene Reef, Apr 08

Pulau Sekudu, Jul 09

Pulau Sekudu, Apr 06

Garlic bread sea cucumbers on Singapore shores

Photos for free download from wildsingapore flickr

more photos of garlic bread sea cucumbers on Singapore shores

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