Souvenirs from the sea: an investigation into the curio trade of echinoderms in Mexico.

Marine curosities are collected from seas around the world, often with little understanding of the ecological impacts of such harvesting. As Latin America’s top destination for foreign tourists, Mexico was chosen for the first case study of the curio trade in echinoderms (any of a variety of invertebrate marine animals belonging to the phylum Echinodermata, which include sea stars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers).

Interviews were conducted with fishers, distributors and retailers in Mexico’s capital city and along its Pacific and Caribbean coasts, to document the organization, scale, value, and management of the curio trade in echinoderms. The surveys, undertaken in February and March 2004, were designed to supply baseline information for Mexican resource managers and to raise public awareness about the potential conservation implications of the marine curio trade.

Mexican curio traders were found to be selling, collectively, specimens of at least 22 echinoderm species, although most retailers focused on Ochre Sea Star Pisaster ochraceus, Cushion Sea Star Oreaster reticulatus, and Purple Sea Urchin Echinometra vanbrunti. Extrapolations from interviews suggested that, together, Mexican fishers hand-collected an estimated 880 000 sea stars and 48 000 sea urchins each year, destined for domestic retail shops and export to the USA and elsewhere. While permits can now be obtained for the commercial exploitation of Pisaster ochraceus, the large-scale commercial collection and sale of Oreaster reticulatus and Echinometra vanbrunti are officially prohibited in Mexico.

Lunn, K.E., Villanueva Noriega M.J. & A.C.J. Vincent (2008). Souvenirs from the sea: an investigation into the curio trade of echinoderms in Mexico. TRAFFIC Bulletin 22(1):19-32.