Spatiotemporal distribution patterns of the sea cucumber Holothuria arguinensis on a rocky-reef coast (Northeast Atlantic)

F. Azevedo e Silva*, A. C. Brito, A. Pombo, T. Simões, T. A. Marques, C. Rocha, A. S. Madruga, J. Sousa, E. Venâncio, P. M. Félix

*Corresponding author for this work

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The demand for sea cucumbers from the NE-Atlantic is increasing as a consequence of the depletion of stocks that historically supplied Asian markets. Some species from the NE-Atlantic are already showing overfishing signs due to either inefficient policies or their total absence, and they do not offer any margins of sustainability to sea cucumber fisheries. The current lack of knowledge of biological and ecological traits has led to ineffective protection of those species. Holothuria arguinensis is a good example of a temperate sea cucumber species suffering from the effects of unregulated and illegal harvest. This study aims to determine the temporal and spatial distribution patterns of H. arguinensis, assessing density and size-class structure in a NE-Atlantic population, in SW Portugal, as a function of environmental conditions. Sampling was done every 1.5 months at 6 stations defined according to habitat heterogeneity, following the coastline from the mouth of the Sado estuary to marine coastal areas. At each station, there were two habitats (rocky substrate and sandy areas) sampled through SCUBA diving along 30-m random transects, each with three replicates. Individuals were counted and measured (total length) and individual behavioural parameters, such as sheltering and settlement surface, were recorded. Water column parameters, sediment composition, and substrate cover were also recorded. Generalised Linear Models were fit to the data, modelling density and size distribution of the species with respect to environmental conditions. The results indicate that the distribution of H. arguinensis was mainly determined by its ability to deal with physical environmental stressors (current), rather than the chemical properties of the water column or sediment composition. The hydrodynamic features of the region exert the greatest impact on this species’ distribution and help shape habitat usage by different size class groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1035-1045
Number of pages11
JournalEstuaries and Coasts
Issue number4
Early online date13 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • Holothurians
  • Size
  • Density
  • Habitat preferences
  • Environmental parameters
  • Portugal


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