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First edition March, 2012.
Suggested citation format:
Al Rashdi K.M., Eeckhaut I. and Claereboudt M. R. 2012. A manual on Hatchery of Sea
cucumber Holothuria scabra in the Sultanate of Oman. Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
Wealth, Aquaculture Centre, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. 27 pp.
Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth
Directorate General of Fisheries Research
Aquaculture Center
A Manual on
Hatchery of Sea Cucumber
Holothuria scabra
in the Sultanate of Oman
Khalfan M. Al Rashdi
Igor Eeckhaut
Michel R. Claereboudt
The Sultanate of Oman is richly endowed
with marine resources that provide
livelihood to fshermen in the coastal
communities. Sea cucumber is just one
of these resources providing source of
income to Mahout Bay fshers (men and
women). The species Holothuria scabra
is one of the most sought-after beche-de-
mer products being sold to international
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
Wealth through the Agriculture and
Fisheries Development Fund has created
a project titled Feasibility study of sea
cucumber aquaculture in Oman and
provided the much-needed fnancial
support to be able to conduct research
studies aimed at developing techniques in
the hatchery of the sea cucumber Holothuria
scabra. Because of the high demand for
beche-de-mer products, fshers put so
much fshing pressures on this resource
causing decreasing fshery production
to the degree of overfshing. Therefore,
there is an urgent need to improve and
intensify the production of hatchery-bred
sea cucumber juveniles for grow-out
culture and for stock enhancement.
This manual shall serve as a guide
to aquaculture technicians, students,
entrepreneurs and marine enthusiasts,
who shall endeavor to multiply the efforts
of the authors.
Saoud H. Al-Habsi, PhD
Director General of Fisheries Research
We thank the Agriculture and Fisheries
Development Fund for providing the
necessary fund for the conduct of
various research activities and fnal
printing of this manual. Special thanks
are due to His Excellency Dr. Fuad Al
Sagwani, Minister of Agriculture and
Fisheries Wealth and His Excellency
Dr. Hamed Al Ouf, Undersecretary
of Fisheries Wealth for their support
and encouragement to write this
manual. Also we thank Dr. Saoud Al
Habsi, Director General of Fisheries
Research and Dr. Fahad Ibrahim,
Director of Aquaculture Center for their
unwavering support in sea cucumber
aquaculture project and their sincere
encouragement to fnally see the
printing of this manual. We thank
Madagascar Holothurie Company
(Madagascar) and University of Mons
(Belgium) for taking their time off
to help us in the hatchery trials and
without their technical support this
manual will not come out.
Khalfan M. Al Rashdi
Igor Eeckhaut
Michel R. Claereboudt
Diversity of sea cucumbers in Oman
Status of Sea Cucumber Fishery in Oman
Biology of Holothuria scabra
Habitat and Environment
Feeding and Growth
Sex and Reproduction
Maturation and Development
Artifcial Propagation Techniques
Source of broodstock
Preparation for Spawning
Hatchery Techniques
Hormone-induced oocyte maturation and fertilization
Induced spawning
Pre-spawning and spawning behavior
Egg collection, counting, incubation and hatching
Post-spawning maintenance
Larval rearing
Food and feeding
Preparation of settlement substrates
Larval settlement and metamorphosis
Some problems in larval rearing
The sea cucumber fshery in the Sultanate
of Oman is centered on one species, the
Holothuria scabra. The H. scabra fshery
is limited on the eastern side of Mahout
Bay area in Al-Wusta region, which is
characterized by seagrass beds with
fne sand in sheltered fats and lagoons.
H. scabra is considered one of the
most commercially valuable species for
beche-de-mer production and have been
widely fshed in the tropics. The A-grade
classifcation of beche-de-mer from
sandfsh H. scabra commands one of the
highest prices on the international market.
China has become the largest producer of
sea cucumber worldwide.
Although there are a growing number of
studies focusing on echinoderms and
holothuroids worldwide, the Arabian
Sea has not received much attention.
There have been a few publications on
echinoderms in the region, but with the
exception of recent studies on the fsheries
and stock assessment of Holothuria
scabra (Al-Rashdi et al. 2007a; Al-Rashdi
et al. 2007b), there are no frst hand
records of sea cucumbers in the Sultanate
of Oman except a recent study done by
Michel & Khalfan (2011). The Sultanate
of Omans coastline extends over than
3,500 km in three connected bodies of
water: the Arabian Gulf, the Sea of Oman
and the Arabian Sea. The country has
always depended on the sea, however
human pressure on its natural resources is
steadily increasing from fshing, extensive
infrastructure development, tourism and
The marine climates in each of the
three bodies of water are very distinct.
The Arabian Sea coastal ecosystems
withstand the full force of a seasonal
coastal upwelling during the summer
monsoon (JuneSeptember) with sea
surface temperatures often dropping well
below 20C. The cool upwelled water is
accompanied by a steady infux of nutrients
that feeds the growth of extensive beds of
benthic algae interspersed with rich coral
communities. In the Arabian Gulf and the
Sea of Oman, sea surface temperatures
in the same summer period often exceed
32C, whereas in the winter, water
temperatures drop to below 22C. Despite
these extremes, coral communities
fourish along the hard-substrate shores
and support a rich echinoderm fauna.
There is only one marine protected area
(the Daimaniyat Nature Reserve) in the
Sea of Oman, and it covers about 20
km2 and encompasses a string of nine
However, the worldwide supply of beche-
de-mer could hardly meet the Asian market
demand. The world beche-de-mer market
is largely controlled by Chinese traders
and Hongkong SAR is still the major world
market followed by Singapore which is
rather more stable. From the nutrition and
medicinal point of view, sea cucumber is
an ideal tonic food. It has higher in protein
and lower in fat than most other sea
foods. It has been a source of chondroitin
sulphate which is well-known for reducing
arthritic pain. Currently, there are an
increasing number of commercial products
containing sea cucumber and its extracts
for nutritional and medicinal purposes.
Fig. 1. An adult sandfsh, Holothuria scabra
Holothuria leucospilota
Holothuria atra
Holothuria scabra
Holothuria nobilis
Fig. 2. Some sea cucumbers species
found in Omani waters
small islands. In total, 17 species of
Aspidochirotida, 2 species of Apoda and 2
species of Dendrochirotida were observed
during the survey. Additional species of
Dendrochirotida were observed in the
south of Oman. Although eight species
were found in all or nearly all locations,
many others were only found in four
locations or fewer. Holothuria scabra, for
instance, was restricted to two locations on
the Arabian Sea near the Island of Masirah,
and Holothuria arenacava was only found
in a few sandy embayments near Muscat.
The overall number of species decreased
from the Arabian Sea (19 species) to the
Sea of Oman (13 species) to the Arabian
Gulf (8 species). Several species were
recorded for the frst time during the
survey: Holothuria arenacava, H. nobilis,
a common yet unidentifed species of
Holothuria, H. cinerescens, and a mottled
pink Actinopyga, these last three were
from Dhofar (southern Oman). Holothuria
hilla and Holothuria impatiens were also
observed. From a community standpoint,
both the non-metric multidimensional
scaling analysis and the cluster analysis,
identifed a major split in the structure
of sea cucumber communities between
the Arabian Sea and the Sea of Oman.
This frst subdivision is mainly due to six
species that were restricted to the Arabian
Sea coast of the Sultanate: Holothuria
scabra, H. nobilis, Actinopyga miliaris,
Actinopyga sp. (unidentifed species), H.
cinerescens and an unidentifed species
of Holothuria sp. Secondary subdivisions
of communities distinguish the northern
part of the Arabian Sea coast from its
most southern part (Dhofar). In the Sea
of Oman, sea cucumber communities
from the central part of the Gulf (Muscat)
are separated from those in the northern
and southern regions. The holothuroid
community found near Mahout Island
appeared to be relatively distinct from both
that of the Arabian Sea and the Sea of
Fig. 3. Women of Al Wusta province,
collect sandfsh
during low tide
There have been very few studies conducted
on the fshery of sea cucumber in the Sultanate
of Oman. Harvesting of sea cucumber mainly
Holothuria scabra, constitutes a minor fshery
in Oman which takes place in Mahout Bay.
Due to the increased demand for beche-de-
mer in the international markets, a revived sea
cucumber fshery was noted in 2003. The fshery
is usually linked with the shrimp fshing season
that runs from September to March. However,
sea cucumber harvesting is done only when the
number of shrimp landings decreased usually
during November.
Despite the lack of regulations in the harvesting
of sea cucumbers, some general fshery
management rules are being practiced in the
region such as the restriction on the use of
SCUBA for harvesting any marine resource. Sea
cucumbers are only collected by hand during low-
tide or by skin-diving in deeper areas. The peak
months for harvesting sea cucumber are from
September to January, despite the lack of specifc
closed season. Studies showed evidences of
rapid overfshing of sea cucumbers in Oman.
Recently, the average harvest per fsher in 2007
was only less than 20 per fshing trip compared to
about 100 sea cucumbers per fsher per fshing
trip in 2005. In 2005, 50% of the fshers were
Women, and because of the stock depletion their
percentage has dropped in 2008 down to 15%.
Processed sea cucumbers showed a signifcant
number of very small individuals of less than 6 cm
(dried form) which correspond to about 12 cm of
live specimens.
Fig. 4. Small caught H. scabra which
refects overfshing
At present, the government through the
Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth
has already initiated some measures to
monitor the sea cucumber fshery with the
objective of providing regulatory framework
that will ensure the sustainability of the
Classifcation and Morphology of
Holothuria scabra
Sea cucumbers are holothurids which
are related to sea stars, brittle stars, and
sea urchins. The taxonomy of sandfsh H.
scabra is:
Phylum: Echinodermata, Class:
Holothuridae (with tube feet), Family:
Holothuriidae (with circular body and single
gonad), Genus: Holothuria (Metriatyla)
Rowe, 1969, and Species: H. scabra
Jaeger 1833.
Sea cucumbers have elongated and
cylindrical body. The body wall is the edible
part and accounts for more than 50% of
the total animal weight. The body surface
is relatively smooth with small papillae
or sensory tube feet, with black dots and
dark transverse wrinkles. The mouth is
on the ventral surface at the anterior end
of the body while the anus is located
dorsally at the posterior end of the body.
Sea cucumbers have tiny calcareous
plates called spicules in their skin (Fig. 4).
Microscopic examination of spicules can
be used for species identifcation.
Fig. 4. Sea cucumber
Fig. 5. Natural habitat of Holothuria scabra
Biology of H. scabra
Habitat and Environment
Sea cucumbers are an abundant and
diverse group of worm-like and usually
soft-bodied echinoderms. They are found
in nearly every marine environment, but
are most diverse on tropical shallow-water
coral reefs. They range from the intertidal,
where they may be exposed briefy at low
tide, to the foor of the deepest oceanic
trenches. They are found in sandy-muddy
areas with lots of sea grasses; mostly in
shallow waters of 5-10 meters deep. The
more preferred areas have high levels of
nutrients. They can tolerate lower salinity
up to 20 ppt for short period of time.

Feeding and Growth
Juveniles and adults of sea cucumbers
feed on detritus or decaying organic
matter. However, under captive or culture
conditions they can feed on dry seaweeds
and artifcial feeds. Sea cucumbers grow
to a size of 300-500 g (15-16 inches
long) over one year which is equivalent
to a monthly growth rate of about 15-25 g
Sex and Reproduction
By external features, it is not possible to
determine the male from the female sea
cucumber. Sex can only be determined
by biopsy or dissection of animal to obtain
Fig. 5. The life cycle of sandfsh,
Holothuria scabra
gonad sample. However several studies
showed that animals are ripe at most
times of the year, with one or two seasonal
Sea cucumbers can reproduce both
sexually and asexually, although most
species have defned sexes. During
asexual reproduction, the sea cucumber
will divide itself down the median line, also
known as fssion, to create two separate
organisms, which will complete their
development by regenerating the missing
body parts. Some can only complete this
process if certain parts are present.
In contrast, sexual reproduction or
spontaneous spawning involves the
external fertilization of eggs and the
subsequent fertilization by sperm within
the water column. The fertilized eggs will
hatch and the larvae will live a planktonic
or free foating existence, swimming along
with the aid of tiny cilia for mobility, eating
and growing until they have reached the
metamorphosis stage.
Metamorphosis and Development
Sea cucumbers undergo a metamorphic
phase that transforms from larva to adult
(Fig. 5). During metamorphosis, larvae
undergo a complex development and
regeneration of internal organs. The newly
emerged juveniles sink to the bottom in
order to complete their development and
take on the adult form, but will continue to
grow until they reach the full-adult size.
In order to determine their potentials for
commercial culture or for restocking of
depleted marine areas it is necessary to
develop mass seed production techniques
for the sea cucumber.
Source of Broodstock
Wild sea cucumber broodstock are usually
used for artifcial propagation. Animals
are collected during their reproductive
season so that they are ready for
immediate spawning. Ideally, broodstock
must be around 250 to 500 g in weight
(Fig. 3). Furthermore, animals with no
bodily damage or lesions due to collection
procedures, have smooth and shiny skin
with transparent mucous layer, and have
not eviscerated should be selected.
Sea cucumbers are collected by hand
during low tide. While at sea, collected
animals should be kept in insulated
containers with aeration using portable
battery-operated aerator if holding time
is more than two hours. It is better if the
animals defecate while in the holding
containers before packing in transport
bags. Although sea cucumbers can
tolerate low dissolved oxygen levels
and high temperature (up to 30oC) for a
long period of time without eviscerating,
they must be provided optimal holding
conditions i.e. water temperature of 27-
30 oC to prevent stress which can cause
premature spawning.
Prior to packing, animals must be cleaned
by gently washing the body with seawater
and should be packed at low density or
better yet individually if using smaller
plastic bags flled with one liter of sea water
and infated with oxygen.

Fig. 6. Newly-caught sea cucumber H.
scabra broodstock from Mahout Bay
Fig. 7. Selected broodstock prior
Preparation for Spawning
Upon arrival in the hatchery, the animals
are acclimatized while in the transport bags
with ambient seawater. Their bodies are
gently cleaned before placing in the tank
with fow-through sea water and aeration.
Sediments or faeces are siphoned at the
tank bottom immediately prior to induction
of spawning. The animals are induced to
spawn after about 30 minutes to 1 hr (Fig.
Hormone-Induced Oocyte
Maturation and Fertilization
Broodstock are dissected to obtain their
gonads for the in-vitro fertilization (Fig
7-Part 1). A cut was made using a pair
of scissors at the lower ventral side of its
body. Body fuid is drained and the gonad
is taken out using forceps and placed in
a beaker. Gonads are then cut into small
pieces using a pair of scissors, and then
sieved in 60 m plankton net with fltered
sea water in order to get the oocytes or the
spermatozoa in the case of males. Then,
the oocytes are induced to mature within
2hr by adding the artifcial maturation
hormone solution prior to adding the milt
to fertilize. The fertilized eggs are kept in a
small basin without aeration until hatching.
Fig. 8-1. Part 1 of induced oocyte
maturation in sea cucumber H. scabra
1. Dissect
3. Cut gonad into pieces
4.Wash and flter
5. Add hormone to oocytes
2. Remove gonad
Fig. 8-2 Part two of induced oocyte
maturation in sea cucumber H. scabra
Fig. 9 Monitoring of water temperature
in the spawning tank

Induced Spawning
1) Temperature shock-
water temperature is
increased by 3-5oC for one
hour, either by adding sun-
warmed seawater into the
spawning tank or by using
aquarium heater (Fig.
8). Water temperature is
kept within 28-32oC with
constant stirring to maintain
temperature uniformly
within the tank. In some
cases, water temperature
is cooled down by 5oC
below ambient for one
hour and then raise the
temperature again above
ambient by 3-5oC. After
treatment, replace water
with fresh seawater at
ambient temperature and
wait until the animals
2) Drying and water
pressure application- animals are placed in the spawning
tank without water for half an hour before subjecting them
to powerful jets of seawater for several minutes. Seawater
is replaced at ambient temperature.
3) Sperm-induced technique- one to two ripe males
(previously identifed) are dissected to obtain the gonads.
Gonads are cut into small pieces and added to the
spawning tank at ambient water temperature.
4) Spirulina bath- dried alga Spirulina is added at a
concentration of 30 g per 300-500 L of seawater. Algamac
2000, a commercial preparation of spray-dried cells of
Schizochytrium algae may also be used at 0.1 g/liter. Mix
Fig. 10. Spawning behavior of male H.
well by stirring the water and leave for one
hour before replacing with fresh seawater
at ambient temperature.
5) Treatment combinations may also be
a) Dry treatment + Cold shock
treatment + Hot shock treatment
b) Hot Shock treatment + Spirulina
c) Dry treatment + Hot shock
treatment + Spirulina bath
Pre-Spawning and Spawning
Broodstock display signs or behavior
indicating that spawning is imminent, such
as: 1) rolling movements, 2) lifting the front-
end of the body and swaying, 3) gliding or
climbing the tank wall.
Sea cucumber H. scabra are broadcast
spawners. Spawning usually occurs in the
afternoon, or at night following collection
of the broodstock. Spawning has been
observed just prior to the full-moon and
new-moon phases. Males usually spawn
frst, releasing a continuous stream
of milt (or the hydrated suspension of
spermatozoa) for several minutes or even
hours. Female usually shows bulging
of the front-end of the body followed by
intermittent egg release, sometimes at
one hour after the frst male releases milt.
Fertilization takes place in the water.
Females can spawn 2-3 times over a
period of one hour but may stop when
disturbed. On the average, a 500-g female
can spawn at a range of least 1 to 3 million
eggs. During spawning, it is advisable to
remove the males from the tank once they
Fig. 11. A: male gonads containing sperms
and B: female gonads with mature oocytes.
started releasing sperm in order to prevent
poly-spermy or a condition of excessive
amount of sperm that can damage the
Egg Collection, Counting,
Incubation and Hatching
When spawning is complete, breeders are
removed from the spawning tank. Eggs
are siphoned into an 80m wet sieve and
washed several times with UV-treated
Fig. 12. Embryonic and larval
development of sandfsh H. scabra at
water temperature of 25-29oC.
seawater to remove excess sperm and accumulated dirt during spawning. Newly-
spawned eggs are white, spherical and visible to the naked eye. Sea cucumber eggs
measure 80 to 200 m.
To estimate the number of eggs, place
all eggs in a bucket with known volume,
e.g. 10L. Stir the water gently to disperse
the eggs in the water column. Take fve
1-ml subsample, then count number
of eggs in each subsample using the
Sedgewick-Rafter chamber under a
compound microscope. Get the average
of the 5 subsamples and multiply with the
total volume of the water in the container.
Estimate also the fertilization rate by
dividing the number of fertilized eggs by
the total number of eggs counted.
Eggs are stocked in the hatching-cum-
larval rearing tanks at a stocking density
of 0.5-1 per ml for incubation, hatching and
subsequent rearing the newly-hatched
larvae. Hatching occurs at 36 hrs after
fertilization at water temperature of 25-29
oC (Fig. 7).
Fig. 13. Broodstock used in induced spawning are returned to holding tank with sand bottom to
recuperate and remature
Table 1. Important water quality parameters during larval rearing of
H. scabra
Paramater Levels Remarks
Salinity, ppt 32- 36
Temperature. oC 26-30
Rearing water UV-fltered
Illumination, lux 400
Natural light during daytime,
artifcial light at nighttime
Dissolved oxygen, ppm 6-9
Use fne bubble-producing
airstone diffuser
pH 0.07-0.4
Ammonia, ppm 0.07-0.4
Post-Spawning Maintenance
After spawning, animals are put back
in sand-bottom tanks lined with fow-
through seawater (Fig. 6). The animals are
maintained at a stocking density of 20-30
animals per 1-ton tank in static aerated
seawater. They can be fed artifcial feeds
consisting of prawn head waste, soya bean
powder, rice bran and sea grass powder, at
a feeding rate of 50 g per day. Broodstock
held at lower density and fed artifcial diets
can re-mature and spawn more than once.
Larval Rearing
Newly-hatched auricularia larvae are
maintained in the same tank where they
are hatched. Auricularia is the stage when
sea cucumber larvae commence feeding
on exogenous food sources. Larvae are
stocked at 1000/liter of water volume in
1000-L plastic buckets flled with 800L UV-
fltered seawater (Fig. 7).
Fig. 14. Larval rearing of sand fish H.
scabra: batch-culture method in 100-
L plastic buckets (A-B); larval rearing
in flow-through tank (C-D), cotton-
filter for copepods entering through
water supply.
Food and Feeding
The use of mixed algae is best for sea
cucumber larvae however, the best feed
combination and appropriate feeding levels
have to be looked into. Auricularia larvae
can be fed a mixture of different algae such
as Chaetoceros muelleri, C. calcitrans,
Isochrysis galbana, Nannochloropsis sp.,
and the temperate alga Phaeodactylum
tricornotum. P. tricornotum is cultured
at low temperature of 19-24oC in the
laboratory with artifcial lights (Fig. 12).
The sea water medium is 1-m mesh
fltered and UV treated, and enriched with
chemical fertilizers at the rate of 2 to 3 ml
per l of water. Chaetoceros, Isochrysis
and Nannochloropsis are all cultured in
the laboratory or in outdoor tanks (water
temperature: 29-30oC) and fertilized
with Guillards F/2 medium (Trademark:
Feeding of auricularia larvae starts on
Day-2 or two days after hatching (Table
2). Initially, algal density used is at 20,000
cells per ml and is maintained until Day-7.
From Day-8 until Day-15 when the larvae
transformed to mid-auricularia and then
late auricularia, algal density is increased
to 40,000 cells per ml. From auricularia,
larvae transform into doliolaria which is
non-feeding. It preceeds the stage when
Fig. 15. Algal food culture under laboratory
Fig. 16 Corrugated PVC plates
immersed in tank with
flow-through sea water to coat with benthic diatoms
the larvae settle in the tank bottom or on
any substrates provided and begin their
benthic life as pentactula larvae.
Preparation of Settlement Substrates
Fig. 16 Corrugated PVC plates immersed
in tank with fow-through sea water to coat
with benthic diatoms
Suitable settlement substrates are provided
(similar to abalone hatcheries) such as
corrugated PVC plastics, fberglass plates,
mesh screens and rough tiles. Prior to
use, the plates are prepared by immersing
in shaded tanks flled with seawater that
were previously inoculated with various
benthic diatom species such as Navicula
sp. or Nitzschia sp (Fig. 13). In other
hatcheries, the plate surfaces are painted
with commercially available Spirulina
powder made into paste for coating at 1-2
g powder per m2. It usually takes 4-5 days
to coat plate surfaces with diatoms. Then
the Spirulina-coated plates are immersed
in tanks with fow-through sea water in a
partially shaded area.
Feeding Water management
0 (stocking) 32- 36 No No change
Early to mid
20,000 cells/ml*
100% change
every 2 days
8- 15
Mid to late
40,000 cells/ml* 100% change daily
18-20 Doliolaria Non-feeding stage same
22-29 ppm Pentactula
Benthic diatoms & Sargas-
sum extract
30-40 Juveniles
Benthic diatoms & Sargas-
sum extract
*mixed algae: Chaetoceros,
Phaeodactylum, Nannochlo-
ropsis, Isochrysis
Table 2. Feeding and water management schemes during larval
rearing of sea cucumber Holothuria scabra
Larval Settlement and Metamorphosis
Metamorphosis or the transformation to doliolaria stage begins two
weeks after fertilization. However, most larvae can be observed
swimming continuously searching for subtrates for settlement.
Since doliolaria are phototactic (positively attracted to light), it is
best to cover the tank to prevent aggregation of larvae on the water
The early juveniles began to attach at the bottom of the rearing tank on
the 3rd or 4th week after fertilization. They appeared as transparent
(visible only by using light torch) and their size is estimated to be 0.5
mm. At this stage, they are fed daily with fnely ground Sargassum
particles (that passed thru 120 m flter) at an amount of 1 ml/100
L tank volume. Not all larvae undergo metamorphosis at the same
time; many of them may stay at auricularia or doliolaria stages
while others are transformed into juveniles. Hence, a mixture of
phytoplankton and Sargassum particles should be added into the
culture tank during this period (which lasts about 2 weeks).
Some Problems Encountered During Larval Rearing
Copepods infestation is one problem that can be encountered during
larval rearing of sea cucumber. Copepods attack sea cucumber
larvae either directly or by repeated collision causing bodily damage.
There is diffculty in eliminating copepods with sea cucumber larvae
as their sizes are similar. However the application of trichlorofon
(Dipterex) has been recommended. Also, water fltration should be
improved to minimize copepod and ciliate infestations.
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