19 March 2009

Malaysia lists 'gamat' sea cucumbers as endangered

A traditional Malay tonic called ‘Air Gamat’ is made from the body fluids of sea cucumbers. The tonic is a popular local remedy for faster healing of wounds, as a post-natal treatment and other ailments.

'Gamat' is now listed as endangered by the Fisheries Department of Malaysia.

'Gamat' is made from Hermann's sea cucumber (Stichopus hermanni) and/or Warty Selenka's sea cucumber (Stichopus horrens). In Pulau Langkawi, the processing industry has depleted the resources of Stichopus hermanni, which is now an endangered if not an extinct species in the vicinity of the Langkawi Islands. Stichopus horrens, however, are still found in relative abundance in the reef flats of Pulau Pangkor, located on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the state of Perak. The raw products are traditionally processed into gamat oil and gamat water, and recently into medicated balm, toothpaste and soap. (from Fisheries, trade and utilization of sea cucumbers in Malaysia, FAO undated)

Fisheries Dept lists ‘gamat’ as endangered
Malaysian Insider 19 Mar 09;
LANGKAWI, March 19 — The Fisheries Department of Malaysia has identified the “gamat”, the sea cucumber, widely fetched from the sea waters for medicinal purposes in Langkawi, as an endangered species.

Deputy director of the department (operations), Suhaili Lee said the department was concerned with the depleting number of “gamat” and sea horses, which is another endangered species.

“The department would also list other species if they faced a similar predicament, to ensure they do not become extinct,” he told reporters after opening an aquatic exhibition of turtles and other endangered species at the Langkawi Underwater World, here today.

Visitors to the exhibition can view skeletal remains of giant sharks, dolphins, dugong and other exhibits.

Suhaili said the department had listed 33 endangered species in Malaysian waters, including turtles, sharks, dolphins and the dugong.

He added that from 1965 to 2007, the department had been involved in conservation of 192 million turtles, to ensure they remained an active species. — Bernama
Langkawi Fisheries Dept Goes 'Gamat' Breeding
Mohd Zahari Morad, Bernama 23 May 06

LANGKAWI, May 23 (Bernama) -- Langkawi traditional medicine practitioners who are badly-hit by the depleting "gamat" (sea cucumber) resources in the waters of this resort island can now heave a huge sigh of relief.

This came in the wake of the Langkawi Fisheries Department's move to embark on a project to breed this marine life by end of this year.

At present the traditional medicine practitioners are sourcing their sea cucumber supply from neighbouring countries like Thailand, for some as long as 10 years ago.

Gamat is a marine invertebrate that has high therapeutic value including its capability to rejuvenate tissues and hasten wound healing.

The sea cucumber's "miraculous" healing properties had made its mark since 300 years ago.


Langkawi Fisheries Department head Badeli Hassan said the project would be held in the waters of Pulau Singa Besar, Pulau Simpang Tiga and Pulau Timun, covering 15 hectares of area.

"From that size of area, we expect to breed 500,000 sea cucumbers," he told Bernama here recently.

He said the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry has approved RM150,000 allocation for the project, to be managed by the Langkawi Fisheries Department with participation of experts on gamat like those from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).

Badeli said the project has a two-prong strategy.

First, it is expected to assist in conservation of the eco-system in Langkawi's waters.

The gamat-breeding project entails measures to improve water quality and boost breeding of fish in the area.

"The second objective is to ensure sufficient and regular supply of sea cucumber for Langkawi traditional medicine practitioners," he said.


As for the sea cucumber spat, Badeli said the spat would be sourced elsewhere apart from breeding the local variety.

He said in measures to curtail excessive harvesting of the sea cucumber, Langkawi Fisheries Department would ensure that only certain sizes of the sea cucumber could be harvested and the number of those allowed to do so would also be limited.

"It is like keeping a record to ensure that the ecosystem and gamat-breeding not to be affected," he said, adding that the traditional medicine operators would be asked to be actively involved in the project.

Badeli said the operators would be asked to jointly care for the gamat-breeding zone.


When asked on reports that the sea cucumber had actually gone extinct in Langkawi, Badeli denied them saying that these invertebrates are still present in some waters off the island.

"Only that their number is much smaller," he said.

Gamat Asli Enterprise manager, Mustaffa Saad, welcomes the department's move, saying that the measure would ensure constant supply of gamat for Langkawi traditional medicine practitioners.

Mustaffa, who has been in the gamat medicine industry for some 17 years, said since 10 years ago he had not been able to obtain the gamat locally.

"I am forced to source the gamat from Thailand at RM100 to RM120 a kg," he said.

Mustafa said his company, which is operating at the Keda Industrial Zone in Wang Tok Rendong here, needs about 30kg a month of sea cucumber in order to maintain full production.

Gamat Asli Enterprise produces a range of ointments and balms apart from other gamat-based products.

"10 to 20 years ago, gamat is easily available in Langkawi, but not anymore. The sea cucumbers are still present but limited to certain waters," said Mustaffa.

There are some 40 gamat-based industry entrepreneurs in Langkawi.


Another operator, Azizan Zainol of Rojam Industries Sdn Bhd, admits that there is no more gamat in Langkawi since the past 10 years.

"Most of the customers who came to my shop said that they wanted to see a live gamat, but for so long we never had any live gamat.

"The only gamat present is the dried ones and I feel disappointed as a traditional medicine practitioner for not being able to show a live gamat to tourists," he said.

As for the gamat supply, Azizan said he had no problems as he had ample stocks after buying 500kg of dried sea cucumber from Thailand last year.

"I have enough gamat stocks until next year," he said.

Azizan lauds the move to breed gamat as "sea cucumber-based medicines are produced in Langkawi, hence it is appropriate for the raw materials to come from the same location".

"Gamat medications are not only popular among Malaysians but also foreign tourists who buy it for treatment of wounds, joint and muscular pain as well as other ailments," he said.-- BERNAMA


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