Revista de Biología Tropical, ISSN: 2215-2075, Vol. 72(S1): e58623, marzo 2024 (Publicado Mar. 01, 2024)
Population survey of Holothuria (Halodeima) grisea
(Aspidochirotida: Holothuriidae) at its limit of geographic distribution
in the Western South Atlantic
Guilherme Sabino Rupp1*; https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5476-9689
Adriano Weidner Cacciatori Marenzi2; https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8154-5867
Robson Ventura de Souza1; https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0588-0038
Rafael Schroeder2,3; https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7340-0214
1. Empresa de Pesquisa Agropecuária e Extensão Rural de Santa Catarina (EPAGRI), Centro de Desenvolvimento em
Aquicultura e Pesca, Florianópolis, SC, Brazil; rupp@epagri.sc.gov.br (*Correspondence),
2. Universidade do Vale do Itajaí (UNIVALI), Escola Politécnica, Rua Uruguai 458, Centro 88302-901, Itajaí, Brazil;
marenzi@univali.br, schroederichthys@gmail.com
3. Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental (CIIMAR/CIMAR), Terminal de Cruzeiros do Porto de
Leixões, Avenida General Norton de Matos S/N, 4550-208 Matosinhos, Portugal.
Received 23-I-2023. Corrected 14-IX-2023. Accepted 27-IX-2023.
Introduction: The sea cucumber Holothuria (Halodeima) grisea Selenka, 1867 is a common echinoderm in inter-
tidal regions along the Brazilian coast, which recently became the focus of unreported and unregulated fisheries.
This study was carried out in sandy-rocky substrates at Armação do Itapocoroy, Penha, Santa Catarina (26o47’ S;
48o36’ W), near its southern limit of geographic distribution.
Objective: To determine the densities (individuals*m-2) of Holothuria (H.) grisea within a spatial-temporal per-
spective as well as to determine biometric and growth characteristics of the population.
Methods: Two-meter wide transects perpendicular to the coastline were carried out in winter and spring 2019
and in summer and spring 2020, in periods of spring low-tides. In each sampling occasion the total number of
specimens of H. grisea were determined, and a group of 90 organisms was submitted to in situ biometrics (weight,
length and width), and immediately returned alive to their habitat.
Results: The densities of H. (H.) grisea were significantly higher in the subtidal sector and lower in the upper
intertidal sector with no indication of significant differences among sampling campaigns. Depth was the primary
factor explaining the observed density patterns and rugosity of the substrate was secondary but also important.
The body length ranged from 5.2 to 22.5 cm, whereas the weight varied from 6.0 to 230 g. The mean and modal
lengths were 12.54 and 13 cm, respectively. Approximately 75 % of the population sampled was between 10 and
14 cm and the average weight was 60 g. Estimates from von Bertalanffy growth function indicate that the young-
est sea cucumber was one year-old, and the oldest had approximately two and a half years.
Conclusions: This is the first study to determine biometric parameters for H. (H.) grisea in southern Brazil and
the first one to estimate growth and age estimates for a wild population of this species. The densities recorded
in the present study were lower than those previously reported for this region, suggesting anthropic influence.
Key words: Holothuria (Halodeima) grisea; Santa Catarina; densities; spatial distribution; population.
2Revista de Biología Tropical, ISSN: 2215-2075 Vol. 72(S1): e58623, marzo 2024 (Publicado Mar. 01, 2024)
Sea cucumbers play an important role in
marine ecosystems (Purcell et al., 2016), and
present outstanding commercial value through-
out the world (Purcell et al., 2018), however
little is known about their populations in Brazil
(Mendes et al., 2006; Ponte & Feitosa, 2019;
Souza Jr. et al., 2017; Ventura et al., 2013). The
greed for these high priced-organisms has led
to intense capture in more than 70 Countries,
threatening the populations of various species
around the planet (Purcell et al., 2013; Purcell
et al., 2023), including Latin America (Conand,
2018; Sonnenholzner, 2021).
Although a wide diversity of sea cucumbers
is described for shallow waters of the Brazilian
coast (Martins, 2012; Martins & Souto, 2020;
Martins & Tavares, 2021; Martins et al., 2022),
only three species are described for south-
ern Brazil (Rupp et al., 2023). Among them,
Holothuria Halodeima grisea Selenka, 1867 is
considered the most common, being recorded
in the intertidal region at the base of the rocks,
usually in contact with the bottom sand (Bueno
et al., 2015; Martins, 2012; Mendes et al., 2006;
Tiago & Ditadi, 2001; Tommasi, 1969). Nev-
ertheless this species is already threatened by
unreported and unregulated capture in Brazil
(Ponte & Feitosa, 2019; Rupp & Marenzi, 2021;
Souza Jr. et al., 2017). The geographic distribu-
tion of H. (H.) grisea is predominantly tropical,
and includes the west coast of Africa, Florida,
Gulf of Mexico, Panamá, Caribbean islands,
Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil up to Santa
Catarina (Martins, 2012; Pawson et al., 2010).
In latter location Rupp et al. (2023) recorded
the occurrence of H. (H.) grisea in nine out of
the eleven intertidal sampled sites, with higher
densities (> 1.7 ind.m-2) recorded in the central
portion of the state, and none found further
south than the locality of Garopaba.
The objective of the present study was
to evaluate the abundance and densities
Estudio poblacional de Holothuria (Halodeima) grisea (Aspidochirotida: Holothuriidae)
en su límite de distribución geográfica en el Atlántico Sur Occidental
Introducción: El pepino de mar Holothuria (Halodeima) grisea Selenka, 1867 es un equinodermo común en
las regiones intermareales a lo largo de la costa brasileña, que recientemente se convirtió en foco de pesquerías
no declaradas y no reguladas. Este estudio se realizó en sustratos arenosos-rocosos en Armação do Itapocoroy,
Penha, Santa Catarina (26o47’ S; 48o36’ W), cerca del límite sur de su distribución geográfica.
Objetivo: Determinar las densidades (individuos*m-2) de Holothuria (H.) grisea dentro de una perspectiva
espacio-temporal así como determinar las características biométricas y de crecimiento de la población.
Métodos: Se realizaron transectos de dos metros de ancho perpendiculares a la línea de costa en invierno y pri-
mavera de 2019 y en verano y primavera de 2020, en periodos de bajamar sicigia. En cada ocasión de muestreo se
determinó el número total de especímenes de H. (H.) grisea, y se sometió un grupo de 90 organismos a biometría
in situ (peso, longitud y ancho), e inmediatamente se los devolvieron vivos a su hábitat.
Resultados: Las densidades de H. (H.) grisea fueron significativamente más altas en el sector submareal y más
bajas en el sector intermareal superior sin indicios de diferencias significativas entre las campañas de muestreo.
La profundidad fue el factor principal que explica los patrones de densidad observados y la rugosidad del sustrato
fue secundaria pero también importante. La longitud del cuerpo varió de 5.2 a 22.5 cm, mientras que el peso varió
de 6.0 a 230 g. Las longitudes media y modal fueron 12.54 y 13 cm, respectivamente. Aproximadamente el 75 %
de la población muestreada midió entre 10 y 14 cm y el peso promedio fue de 60 g. Estimados de la función de
crecimiento de von Bertalanffy indican que el ejemplar más joven presentaba un año de edad, mientras el más
viejo presentaba cerca de dos años y medio.
Conclusiones: Este es el primer estudio que determina parámetros biométricos para una población de H. (H.)
grisea en el sur de Brasil y el primero en estimar el crecimiento y edades para una población salvaje de esta especie.
Las densidades registradas en el presente estudio fueron inferiores a las reportadas previamente para esta región
sugiriendo la ocurrencia de influencia antrópica.
Palabras clave: Holothuria (Halodeima) grisea; Santa Catarina; densidades; distribución espacial; población.
Revista de Biología Tropical, ISSN: 2215-2075, Vol. 72(S1): e58623, marzo 2024 (Publicado Mar. 01, 2024)
(individuals.m-2) of H. (H.) grisea within a
spatial-temporal perspective, at a locality where
a previous study has been conducted (Mendes
et al., 2006) nearly 16 years earlier. Addition-
ally, biometric parameters of the population
as such length and weight distributions were
determined, as well as growth parameters. Such
basic information could be useful for future
conservation practices as well as for fishery
management and aquaculture of this species.
Field methods: The study site is in the lit-
toral zone of Armação Itapocoroy cove, Penha,
Santa Catarina (26º 47’S; 48º36’W) (Fig. 1),
which is a low-energy wave action area. The
site has a slight slope and rocky-sandy sub-
strate consisting of coarse grain-sized sedi-
ments (Mendes et al., 2006). This site is located
approximately 150 km from the southernmost
point where the Holothuria (H.) grisea have
been recorded (Rupp et al., 2023). Four Holo-
thuria (H.) grisea sampling campaigns were
carried out between August 2019 and Octo-
ber 2020 during low spring tides. Restrictions
imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic prevented
sampling from being carried out from autumn
to winter 2020. On each occasion, three two-
meter wide transects (T1, T2 and T3) distant
15 m from each other (Fig. 2) were deployed
perpendicularly to the shore, with lengths rang-
ing from 33 to 50 m (Table 1), depending on the
tidal level. The transect areas were surveyed by
visual and tactile inspections and the numbers
of H. (H.) grisea in each one-meter division
of the transects were recorded. The samplings
always started at T2, then proceeding to T3 and
finally to T1. In three opportunities it was not
possible to finalize the sampling at T1 and T3
due to tidal surge. The rocks at the sampling
area were not revolved in order to avoid habitat
disturbance. The length of the transects was
divided in three sectors based on tidal expo-
sure: A – upper intertidal (length 0 to 16 m),
B – lower intertidal (length 17 to 33 m) and C –
subtidal (length 34 to 50 m). Their depths were
determined in the middle of each sector. To do
that, tidal tables from the Brazils Navy Hydrog-
raphy and Navigation Center (Centro de Hidro-
grafia e Navegação [CHN], n.d.) and from a
nearby tide gauge from the Santa Catarina State
Institution for Agricultural Research and Rural
Extension (Empresa de Pesquisa Agropecuária
e Extensão Rural de Santa Catarina, n.d.) were
used as references. The rugosity of each sector
was estimated using the chain method (Luck-
hurst & Luckhurst, 1978). A metal chain with
small links was laid along the central portion of
the transects, so that it followed the contours of
Fig. 1. Location of the study site at Armação do Itapocoroy, Penha (SC).
4Revista de Biología Tropical, ISSN: 2215-2075 Vol. 72(S1): e58623, marzo 2024 (Publicado Mar. 01, 2024)
the substratum as closely as possible. The ratio
between the contour length of the chain and
the sector actual length (Rg) was used to infer
rugosity index:
Ri = 1-(1/Rg)
Where Ri is the rugosity index and Rg is the
ratio between the chain length and the actual
length of the sector of the transect (Mendes et
al., 2006).
A group of 90 animals was randomly sam-
pled, on each campaign, for in loco biometry.
The following parameters were registered: total
length and width with contracted body, and
total weight after light pressure to expel the
liquid from the internal cavity. Linear measure-
ments were carried out with a precise ruler
(± 0.5 mm) and a field DC digital scale was
used to determine weights (± 0.1 g). Samplings
were non-destructive and the animals were
immediately returned to their habitat after
biometry. The moon phase and the following
environmental parameters were recorded in
each sampling occasion: air temperature, sky
coverage (clouds), water temperature and salin-
ity. Tidal information was obtained at CHN
tables (CHN, n.d.). This study was carried out
under license for collection of native fauna of
the Brazilian Ministry of Environment MMA/
SISBIO No. 68215.
Statistic approach: Normality and
homoscedasticity of the datasets were veri-
fied respectively with Shapiro-Wilk and Lev-
enes tests using StatisticaR, version 12 (Statsoft
Inc. USA), and density data was square root
transformed in order to meet those premises
(Zar, 1999). Two-Way ANOVA was used to
compare densities on spatial-temporal scale
(among transects, sectors and season) (Sokal
& Rohlf, 2000). Significant differences were
considered when P < 0.05 and Tuckey’s test
was used as post-hoc analysis. The comparison
Fig. 2. Plots of the transects at Armação do Itapocoroy, Penha (SC) (A - Google Earth); (B) aerial photo of the sampling area.
(Arrows indicate North).
Table 1
Surveyed months and respective seasons, transects lengths and the comparable sectors used for statistical analysis.
Month Season Transect distance (m) Comparable sectors
T1 T2 T3 T1 T2 T3
August/2019 Winter-19 33 50 50 A-BA-B-C A-B-C
October/2019 Spring-19 33 50 33 A-BA-B-C A-B
March/2020 Summer-20 50 50 50 A-B-C A-B-C A-B-C
October/2020 Spring-20 45 50 50 A-BA-B-C A-B-C
Revista de Biología Tropical, ISSN: 2215-2075, Vol. 72(S1): e58623, marzo 2024 (Publicado Mar. 01, 2024)
of mean length and weight of Holothuria (H.)
grisea among the sampling campaigns was
explored using One-Way ANOVA, however the
assumption for this analysis were not met, even
after data transformation, therefore the non-
parametric Kruskal-Wallis test was used in lieu
of ANOVA (Sokal & Rohlf, 2000).
Considering that it was not possible to
complete Sector C on T1 in 3 opportunities
and on T3 in one opportunity, only the sectors
fully sampled were included in the statisti-
cal analyses (Table 1). The comparison of the
mean densities on temporal scale was carried
out considering T2 (sectors A, B and C) for all
sampling occasions, as well as for all transects
using sector B only. The comparison among all
sectors and transects was carried out within the
summer-20 campaign and the comparison of
the densities among sectors B was carried out
considering all transects and seasons.
Aiming to explain the density of sea-
cucumbers based on both the mean depth of
the sectors and their rugosity indexes, linear
regression analyses were carried out. The den-
sity of animals was the response variable, while
the depth and rugosity were tested as explana-
tory variables, both separately and combined as
a multiple regression model, using the software
“R, version 4.3.0 (R Core Team, 2023). The
relation between size and weight of the stud-
ied population was explored using the power
model regression:
Y = aXb
Where Y = weight, X = length, b = allometric
coefficient, a = intercept (Gould, 1966).
Considering that body measurements in
holothuroids is often imprecise due to body
wall elasticity, the compound index which com-
bines body length and width (SLW = square
root of the length-width product) was used
to further analyze its relationship with body
weight, as indicated for several species of sea-
cucumbers (see Poot-Salazar et al., 2014 for
details). To increase growth parameter accu-
racy, lengths were recalculated using a power
regression between length and SLW (a = 1.0731,
b = 0.6855).
Growth analyses of different SLW cor-
rected length classes (Le) were conducted by
Electronic Length Frequency Analysis (ELE-
FAN) in R 4.3.0 (R Core Team, 2023) using
the TropFishR package (Mildenberger et al.,
2017). The von Bertalanffy growth function
was applied as follows:
Where Let is the predicted corrected size at
age t; Le is the asymptotic size; k is curvature
parameter per year, expressing the rate at which
Le is approached; and to is the theoretical ‘age
if the organism were to have a size equal to zero.
Relative ages at certain lengths and weights
were generated by replacing the growth para-
meters with their respective values as follows:
Environmental variables: The environ-
mental variables recorded during the surveys
carried out from August 2019 to October 2020
are shown in Table 2. The sectors’ surveyed
areas, and the respective depths and rugosity
indexes are presented in Table 3.
Densities and spatial-temporal distribu-
tion: The total number of Holothuria (H.)
grisea counted during the study was 566 indi-
viduals out of which 360 were used for bio-
metrics. The highest density of H. (H.) grisea
recorded per unit area of the transects was 22.5
individuals*m-2 (T3-winter-09). The densities
varied along the transects for all sampling cam-
paigns (Fig. 3).
The mean densities of Holothuria (H.) gri-
sea within the different sectors of each transect
for all sampling campaigns are presented in
Fig. 4. It clearly shows that transect A (upper
intertidal) had lower densities than sectors
B (lower intertidal) and C (subtidal) in all