SEA cucumbers may be the solution to solving the food crisis, Stirling University research has shown.

The institute of aquaculture at the University of Stirling has determined that sea cucumbers – an Asian delicacy – can flourish through feeding on organic waste in the Mediterranean Sea.

The discovery means that alongside providing a high-value product, the echinoderms can reduce the environmental impacts of fish farming.

PhD researcher at the institute, Karl Cutajar, said: “This research shows the feeding connectivity between fish and sea cucumbers under marine commercial fish cages, which means that farming them together in an integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) system is viable.”

Alongside their environmental qualities, sea cucumbers have been found to have antibacterial properties and are currently under investigation for worldwide medicinal usage.

Cutajar continued: “Our results show that sea cucumbers take up fish farm waste and how this helps the sea cucumber to grow.

“Something that removes organic waste ... whilst being a valuable commercial product, without the need for feed input, is an exciting discovery that presents environmental and economic opportunities.”

The research formed part of the EU’s Tools for Assessment and Planning of Aquaculture Sustainability (TAPAS) project.

Alongside AquaBiotech and the University of Palermo, they used isotopes and fatty acid analysis to prove the cucumbers could process the fish waste.

Angus Sharman, of fish farm MFF Ltd in Malta, where the research took place, said: “As the demand for seafood grows, MFF Ltd strongly believes in the need for the development of sustainable aquaculture, possibly through IMTA systems such as this.

“The application of this technology across Mediterranean aquaculture now seems very possible.”

Project leader at Stirling, Trevor Telfer, said: “There is increasing interest in IMTA systems in aquaculture, as there is in circular economy systems in other industries, as a way to find sustainable solutions to future challenges in seafood production.”