A rapid rise in East Asia's consumer demand for sea cucumbers for both food and medicine has increased fishing pressures in many parts of the world. Overfishing can spell extinction for species of sea cucumber that already face serious pollution and habitat destruction threats worldwide. For example, populations of Holothuria whitmaei and H. scabra -- once common in the entire Indian and Pacific oceans -- have recently declined 60 to 90 percent in most of their traditional ranges. Today, at least 16 species of sea cucumber are considered threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, a global authority on the conservation status of plants and animals. The above image depicts dried Holothuria sea cucumbers for sale in Hong Kong.