Why is this so important? When sea cucumbers scavenge the ocean floor for their food, “tiny particles like algae, minute aquatic animals, or waste materials,” they’re also eating lots of sand. As the sand is expelled, some key things are happening:
“When they ingest sand, the natural digestive processes in the sea cucumber’s gut increases the pH levels of the water on the reef where they defecate, countering the negative effects of ocean acidification,” said Professor Byrne.
One of the by-products of the sea cucumber’s digestion of sand is calcium carbonate (CaCO3) a key component of coral. To survive, coral reefs must accumulate CaCO3 at a rate greater than or equal to the CaCO3 that is eroded from the reef.
“The research at One Tree Island showed that in a healthy reef, dissolution of calcium carbonate sediment by sea cucumbers and other bioeroders appears to be an important component of the natural calcium carbonate turnover,” said Professor Byrne.
“The ammonia waste produced when sea cucumbers digest sand also serves to fertilise the surrounding area, providing nutrients for coral growth,” she added.
Sea cucumbers = healthier coral reefs.