Florida's Sea Cucumbers Are Disappearing Because People Think They're a Natural Viagra
You would not want to come across one while snorkeling. They are bloated, malignant-looking, wretched things worth a buck apiece. They feel and taste like boogers. This horrifying, gelatinous creature is known as the sea cucumber and -- at first glance -- looks like something in a medical textbook designed to scare you into celibacy.
via Jacinita Richardson and Paul Fenwick, Wikimedia Commons
But in China, the sea cucumber has the opposite effect. In Asian culture, Trachythyone elongata is a majestic creature and an aphrodisiac that boosts sexual performance. This folk belief likely comes from the animal's phallic shape, as well as a defense mechanism in which it squirts water at would-be attackers.
To capitalize on the Asian market, Eric Lee opened the only Florida facility to process the creatures. It took him a year and a half to get started. Around the time Lee had his brilliant idea, only 14,000 of the ocean penises were taken from our waters and plunked into aquariums each year. But prices had already begun to skyrocket elsewhere in the States. In late 2012, a string of herbal remedy store robberies led the L.A. Times to report that a pound of dried sea cucumber was retailing for about $130.
And by 2013, the cucumber craze had reached Florida, where 54,000 were harvested that year, reports Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times. As entrepreneurs struggle to meet the demand for this folksy Chinese Viagra, they've depleted the world population by about 20 percent.
Now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants want to put a cap on the number of sea cucumbers that can be collected in the Keys. Although Lee told the Times that he'd need to capture at least 500 a day to stay afloat, the commission wants to set the limit at 200.
The commission is expected to vote again in April to come up with a compromise.
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