Abstract / Description of output
Sea cucumber aquaculture is increasing in extent and importance throughout the Indo-Pacific region, supplying a luxury seafood market in Asia. In this context, the grow-out of hatchery-bred juveniles in community-farmed pens is proving to be a viable model, providing increased income security and alternative livelihood options to resource-limited communities. Here, we report a study of the impacts of such sea cucumber farming on the growth of seagrass (a favourable habitat for the animals) at a village-scale aquaculture site in southwest Madagascar. Using experiments, we found that the presence of the hatchery-bred sea cucumber Holothuria scabra (sandfish), at stocking densities of 300 g m-2 (similar to the density used in the farmed pens, but relatively high for natural populations), resulted in a large (~30%), statistically significant increase in the leaf extension rate of the locally dominant seagrass species Thalassia hemprichii. However, the other dominant seagrass species, Cymodocea serrulata, did not significantly change its leaf extension rate in the presence of H. scabra. Since seagrass is a globally important coastal habitat, supporting high biodiversity, carbon sequestration, shoreline stability and nursery grounds for commercial and small-scale fisheries, the positive effect of H. scabra farming on the growth rate of at least one dominant seagrass species implies potential important ecological co-benefits. These co-benefits of H. scabra farming are likely to be relevant across the tropical Indo-Pacific coastlines, where this species is cultured.