Title : Composition and distribution of top commercially exploited sea cucumbers in selected areas of Mindanao, Philippines with notes on their market value and conservation status
Sea cucumbers provide a significant source of livelihood in coastal communities; however, the resource is in peril due to overharvesting and lack of sustainable management. The study aims to highlight the composition and distribution of the most exploited sea cucumber species in the five major sea cucumber grounds in Mindanao with notes on their market value and conservation status. Daily sea cucumber catches monitoring by an assigned enumerator was employed from February 2020 to January 2022. Thirteen (13) sea cucumbers were recorded in the monitoring sites as most exploited with the top five species namely, Actinopyga echinites, Bohadschia marmorata, Holothuria gracilis, H. scabra, and Stichopus horrens. The sandfish, H. scabra is listed as endangered while A. echinites and S. herrmanni are vulnerable based on the IUCN red list. The remaining species are either data deficient, least concerned, or unidentified status. Three species are of high value (350-7,500 beche-de-mer/kg) namely: A. lecanora, H. scabra, and S. herrmanni while eight species are of medium value (500-4,000 beche-de-mer/kg). H. atra and H. gracilis are both low values (100-600 beche-de-mer/kg). The top three highest species compositions are A. echinites (31%) followed by S. horrens (23%) and B. marmorata (16%). The brown-spotted sandfish or B. marmorata is consistently among the top five exploited species in the five sites, followed by H. scabra in four sites, A. echinites in three sites, and the remaining in 1-2 sites. The study revealed that the five major fishing grounds produce mostly medium value sea cucumbers with one species listed as endangered and two as vulnerable. The results offer opportunities for sea cucumber research that is necessary for the formulation of local policies and management interventions for the sustainability of the sea cucumber resource.