Optimisation of mesh enclosures for nursery rearing of juvenile sea cucumbers

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Purcell, SW & Agudo, NS 2013, 'Optimisation of mesh enclosures for nursery rearing of juvenile sea cucumbers ', PLoS One, vol. 5, no. 5, p. e64103.

Article available on Open Access

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Mariculture of tropical sea cucumbers is promising, but the nursery rearing of juveniles is a bottleneck for farming and sea ranching. We conducted four medium-scale experiments lasting 3–6 weeks, using thousands of cultured juvenile sandfish Holothuria scabra, to optimise nursery rearing in mesh enclosures in earthen seawater ponds and to test rearing in enclosures in the sea. In one experiment, survival in fine-mesh enclosures (1 m3; 660-µm mesh) related nonlinearly to juvenile size, revealing a threshold body length of 5–8 mm for initial transfer from hatchery tanks. Survival in enclosures within ponds in the other experiments ranged from 78–97%, and differences in growth rates among experiments were explained largely by seasonal differences in seawater temperatures in ponds. Stripped shadecloth units within fine-mesh enclosures increased feeding surfaces and improved growth rates by >15%. On the other hand, shading over the enclosures may lower growth rates. Following the rearing in fine-mesh enclosures, small juveniles (0.5 to 1 g) were grown to stocking size (3–10 g) in coarse-mesh enclosures of 1-mm mesh. Sand or mud added to coarse-mesh enclosures did not significantly improve growth compared to controls without sediment. Survival of sandfish juveniles in coarse-mesh enclosures set on the benthos within seagrass beds differed between two sheltered bays and growth was slow compared to groups within the same type of enclosures in an earthen pond. Our findings should lead to significant improvement in the cost-effectiveness of rearing sandfish juveniles to a stocking size compared to established methods and highlight the need for further research into nursery systems in the sea.