The Tanzania Times
Eastern Africa News Network

Oceanic creatures now swim into wildlife traffickers nets

Aquatic invertebrates, precisely sea cucumbers, have just joined the list of highly trafficked wildlife species but this time it is from Tanzania’s less patrolled marine ecosystem.

It is being revealed by Wildlife expert, Allen Chad Mgaza, the Natural Resources Management Policy Lead of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Tuhifadhi Maliasili Project.

Mgaza points out that while Sea Cucumber trade is legal, harvesting the wild invertebrates from the Tanzania’s waters is prohibited for environmental issues.

“Instead the government wants people to establish special sea cucumber farms and harvest them from such nurseries but not to deplete the vital species from the ocean depth,” explained Mgaza.

He was making a presentation about issues of ‘wildlife trafficking’ to specialized writers on environment issues.

It was during the special Training Program on Biodiversity Conservation organized by the Journalists’ Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET), with support from USAID and held in the Bagamoyo District of the Coastal Region.

The training was among the programs being undertaken through the ‘Tuhifadhi Maliasili,’ project.

According to Mgaza, when it comes to wildlife trafficking large and more popular species such as the elephant, lion and leopard get most of the global attention.

Tanzania wants people living along the shorelines to establish cucumber farms instead

Except deep in the underground networks of illegal wildlife trade racketeers, it is the smaller specimens including marine creatures that are now slowly but surely topping the trafficking bill.

Sea Cucumbers also known as ‘Sand Fish,’ and Sea Horses seem to be the latest marine gold from the East African shores.

The expert reveals that Uganda is the leading hub of Sea Cucumber trade despite the fact that it is a landlocked country.

That means the supply being packaged in Kampala could be coming from either Kenya or Tanzania, Uganda’s two neighbours along the Indian Ocean Coastline.

Sea Cucumbers (Stichopus japonicus, Holothurioidea) are usually frozen, dried, salted or dipped in brine, smoked and or cooked for preservation before being exported to overseas markets.

Surprisingly, the main hub of the sea creatures’ trade is Uganda, a landlocked East African country.

The suppliers market their products with tantalizing promos; Packed with essential vitamins and minerals, sea cucumber is known for its potential to support joint health, promote skin elasticity, and boost the immune system.

Sea Cucumbers are also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and their consumption may even aid in digestion.

Sea cucumbers have been overfished in many parts of the Indian Ocean for their prized medicinal and culinary properties, leading to a tremendous decline in their population.

A visit to fishermen in Bagamoyo however revealed that most of them do not exactly deal in the Aquatic invertebrates, but their counterparts in Zanzibar could be raking it rich through the endangered species.

“If you look around this fish market you cannot find any sea cucumbers, nobody here eats them,” Salim Zenga, one of the boatmen in Bagamoyo stated, adding that the species could be popular in Zanzibar, due to the influx of foreign travellers there.

Sea cucumber known by locals as ‘Jongoo Bahari,’ (Oceanic Millipedes) come in variety of species in Zanzibar include Myeupe, Tairi, Spinyo baba, Barangu, Nanasi, Kijini, Dole, Barangu mwamba, Sankude, Tambi and Mbura.

According to the National Geographic there should be more than 1,000 species of sea cucumber swimming in the oceans worldwide.

Sea cucumbers or Sandfish (Holothuroids) in general play important ecological roles in the ecosystem. One role is re-mineralising large quantities of organic nutrients through their feeding and burying activities, which increases the benthic productivity of coral reefs.

According to the report from the Sokoine University of Agriculture, the role of sea cucumbers in the dissolution of Calcium carbonate sediment, provides an important source of alkalinity and may play a role in buffering ocean acidification at least at local scales on coral reefs. 

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