Why Sea Cucumbers Are So Expensive | So Expensive

Why Sea Cucumbers Are So Expensive | So Expensive


Narrator: Cucumbers usually
cost under $3 a kilo. But sea cucumbers can set
you back over $3,000 a kilo. In fact, they’re so valuable people will risk their
lives to get ahold of one. They might not look it, but sea cucumbers are pretty special creatures. Just ask this guy, Steven Purcell, one of the world’s foremost
experts on sea cucumbers. Purcell: They’re quite strange animals. They don’t have any limbs,
they don’t have any eyes. They have a mouth and they have an anus and a whole bunch of organs in between. Narrator: These otherworldly animals have been prized as a delicacy
in Asia for centuries, where the wealthiest class
would eat the animals as a nutritious high-protein treat. But it wasn’t until the
1980s that demand exploded. A growing middle class in China meant more people could afford the luxury. Today, they’re typically dried
and packaged in ornate boxes, then given as gifts and
served on special occasions. So, the fancier and more
unusual-looking, the better. And more expensive. It turns out. Purcell: The spikier the
animals, the higher the price. Narrator: And of the
1,250 different species of sea cucumber in the world, the Japanese sea cucumber takes the cake. Purcell: Imagine some
sort of mystical dragon slug with all these sort
of spikes coming out of it. Narrator: At up to $3,500 a kilo, it’s the most expensive
sea cucumber on the market. Compared to other varieties,
like the Golden Sandfish, Dragonfish, and Curry Fish. And even if you order a
common species on Amazon, you could still pay over $170 for a plate. Besides presentation, cucumber
connoisseurs also value thick, chewy bodies, and
to a lesser extent, taste. But the experience of eating them is only part of their appeal. Turns out sea cucumbers
contain high levels of a chemical called
fucosylated glycosaminoglycan in their skin, which people
across Asia have been using to treat joint problems like
arthritis for centuries, and more recently in Europe,
where people are using it to treat certain cancers
and to reduce blood clots. The sea cucumber craze
now comes from all sides. You have the original
Asian delicacy demand that started in the 1980s,
and the new interest from Western pharmaceutical companies. In response, nations have clamored to harvest their local species. From Morocco to the United
States to Papua New Guinea, everyone wants in on
the sea cucumber trade. Purcell: It’s just spread like a contagion from one country to another. Narrator: For example, from 1996 to 2011, the number of countries
exporting sea cucumbers exploded from 35 to 83. But unfortunately, sea cucumbers
couldn’t handle the strain. In Yucatan, Mexico, for example, divers saw a 95% drop in their harvest just between 2012 and 2014, and that’s a problem for everyone. For one, because the more
sea cucumbers are harvested, the rarer and more expensive they become. Average prices rose almost 17% worldwide between 2011 and 2016. And
the rarer these animals get, the deeper divers are
swimming to find them. That’s when fishing gets dangerous. Purcell: Some countries,
they’re doing that without either a lot of training. In some of the tropical countries, you’re getting a lot of people either becoming paralyzed through
decompression sickness. Narrator: So far, at
least 40 Yucatan divers have died trying to harvest sea cucumbers. And as demand continues to increase, the problem is only getting worse. Of the 70 or more species
of exploited sea cucumbers, 7 are now classified as endangered, all through exploitation, forcing numerous fisheries worldwide to shut down and damaging local
economies in the process. So, why not farm sea cucumbers and leave the wild ones alone? Well, it’s easier said than done, since many larvae die
before reaching maturity, and those that do survive
take two to six years to grow to a marketable size. That said, aquaculture for a few varieties has started to take off. Like with that fancy
Japanese sea cucumber. Purcell: There’s now aquaculture
in China in the billions. Narrator: Hopefully more
species will be farmed instead of fished in the future, if not to protect local economies and help develop potentially
life-saving drugs, then at least to preserve a
fascinatingly bizarre animal.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

77 Comments

  1. Here in philippines we have so many sea cucumbers that cebuanos call them "bat" theyre delicous you open them take out their guts and slice them to little peices then soak them with vinegar for 5-7 minutes then take them out put on a bowl then pour vinegar or with chilli mmmmm so yummy

  2. I love sea cucumber sashimi. It's so "savory" and chewy. The chewy-ness is like nata de coco when alive. Koreans and japanese eat it raw.

    The slimy ones are usually served in chinese restaurant, and those are ones that were once dried and hydrated in kitchen and got cooked

  3. Long live China ? they eat dogs also, that up to 3500$ /Kg lol. I’ll be vegan before I go down this route. Ps world fisheries are also the victims of Asia’s hunger for food.

  4. I saw a documentary in Philippines where the fishermen sell sea cucumbers for like 20 pesos per killo. 55 Php = 1 $

  5. My dad went to Korea in high school and was given sea cucumber at a fancy restaurant. He ate it and got food poisoning, he was in the hospital for 3 weeks

  6. An elegant, elongated creature.
    Behold. Bask in the glistening reflection.
    Oh but nah I'm just gonna eat it SQUIIIISSSSSHHHHH.

  7. Lol! No wants to eat that here in our place. People would pick it up during low tide, squeeze it real hard until the white sticky liquid comes out and throw it away back to the sea.

  8. I would be more interested in knowing how much money the men who pick these creatures, get. I suspect they are low paid, is this true?

  9. Im from southeast Asia and can confirm we use sea cucumber ointment as joint pain reliever ( or any other body pains). we call it in Malaysia "Minyak Gamat"

  10. Everyone: ecosystem ,
    Important things about the cucumber , people being racist towards Asian, “everything that move Asian eats” racism
    Me: oh you can eat those?

  11. We have these in our beaches. When you step on them a white sticky gloppy gets stuck to your skin. You got to use beach sand to rub it off. Like a Male's genitalia

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