How a Seafloor Blob Became Mexico’s ‘Black Gold’

How a Seafloor Blob Became Mexico’s ‘Black Gold’

A frenzy for sea cucumbers, driven by demand in Asia, has brought their populations near collapse in the waters off the Yucatán Peninsula.


Local fishermen hang out and wait for a turn for their boats to be serviced in front of one of the fishing cooperatives in Rio Lagartos during a break from the rain.CreditCreditMeghan Dhaliwal for The New York Times

By Natalie Schacha

RÍO LAGARTOS, Mexico — It is not a glamorous creature.

The sea cucumber, a relative of the starfish and sea urchin, isn’t much more than a blob creeping across the ocean floor on tentacle-feet, munching on algae and plankton. The most interesting thing about the animal may be that some species defend themselves by ejecting respiratory tissues through the anus in the direction of the attacker.

But here on the Yucatán Peninsula, the un-charismatic sea cucumber has become so sought-after that the local populations of two species — Isostichopus badionotus and Holothuria floridana — have collapsed…