Sea Cucumber Culture as an Alternative Livelihood

Sea cucumber culture

Sea cucumber culture , Mannar © Kumudini Ekaratne, 2012


Uplifting living standards of coastal communities affected by civil conflict while ensuring the sustainable use of marine resources by introducing sea cucumber pen culture as an eco-friendly alternative livelihood. 



Sea cucumbers, which are marine invertebrates, are known commonly as bêche-de-mer. In Southeast Asia and the Far East, bêche-de-mer is considered a delicacy with a strong cultural belief that it is also beneficial to health.

These animals are slow moving and easily picked up by hand by divers. Sea cucumbers are collected from northwestern Sri Lanka and the entire catch is exported. There are about 1,500 to 2,000 families engaged in this fishery in the Kalpitiya Peninsula alone. For a period of five months of the year, a diver can earn 15 USD (2,000 LKR) per day and women are also employed at processing centres where these sea cucumbers are salted, boiled, dried and packed.

Of the 25 species recorded from eastern and northwestern coasts of Sri Lanka, 23 species are found in the northwestern coastal waters. Certain species are more valuable commercially. There is strong evidence that divers are selectively harvesting high-value species and that catches, for these high value species are declining. Experts believe that without stringent regulation, this fishery will not be sustainable.

With the end of the civil conflict, displaced people are returning to the district of Mannar, and trying to rebuild their lives but with limited options. This project, of cage-culturing sea cucumbers, provides an alternative livelihood that not only brings in supplemental income but also reduces pressure on wild populations.


• Basic awareness about farming sea cucumbers including site selection was given by an officer of the National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA) to ten selected families of the South bar area.

• Ten fishing families from the Southbar Fisheries Co-operative Society were selected for this project, by the members of the Society.

• Ten pens were constructed. Four millimetre plastic nets and four foot’ PVC pipes filled with concrete were used to construct the pens.

• The site selection, as well as obtaining the license for this activity was carried out with technical consultation from the National Aquaculture Development Authority of Sri Lanka.

• Ten days before the introduction of larvae, 50 kg of rice bran was spread on the floor of each pen.

• Training was given to the selected families on introducing juvenile sea cucumbers, and the culture cycle commenced with the introduction of 8,000 hatchery-raised juvenile Holothuria scabra (sandfish).

• Larvae of the size 0.5cm to 0.1cm were introduced and the pens were covered with mosquito nets.

• Another training session was provided on how to maintain pens.

The cages were stocked in March 2012 and the harvest will be in September.


Target beneficiaries

Ten fishing families from the Southbar Fisheries Co-operative Society, Mannar.


  1. The number of stocked juveniles, counted in July, had dropped to 4,200 (survival rate 60-80%), although they had grown from 1cm to 6-8 cm. However, illegal sale (stolen from cages) in September  2012 has fethced LKR 480,000 (~usd 3,700). This shows the return from sea cucumber culture is very pormising. 
  2. In ordet to make up for the loss, the Grantee stocked 1,200 juveniles on 15 October 2012 as their contribution. They also kept a Watcher to guard the cages.  The juveniles were tranfered to grow-out cages on 20 December 2012.  868 have survived from 1,200 during the two month period indicating 72% survival.   
  3. These are planned to be harvested in April 2013.


Accomplishments and challenges

The beneficiaries are guaranteed of a good income. However, stealing of cucumber before harvest has been reported. 


Contributions to cross-cutting themes

Owing to the nature of the activities, the beneficiaries were all males as such there was no gender balance.

Farming will reduce pressure on the wild stock.

Lessons Learned

  • The selected sites should have had more sea grasses, which help to increase the rate of growth of larvae.
  • The larvae used should have been larger when introduced to larval cages. Adding small-sized larvae resulted in increased mortaility.
  • In additon, there was a theft of sea cumbers worth LKR 480,000 (~USD 3,700). In order to rectify these flaws, The Grantee began the next cycle with 1,000 larger juveniles, built a watch hut in the visinity and hired a person to watch the cages to provide round-the-clock vigil. 

Project Facts






1st Nov 2011 to 30th Oct 2012

MFF Grant Amount

LKR 670,560/=

Implementing Partner

Mr Suranjan Kodithuwakku
Green Movement of Sri Lanka
 No. 9, 1st Lane
Wanatha Road
Gangodawila, Nugegoda
Sri lanka
Fax: +94 011 4805274
Tel: + 94 011-2817156


"We will ensure that flaws in cycle 1 are not repeated". Upul Jayatilleke, Project Manager

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