The sea-slugs (Holothuria) variously known as beche-de-mer, trapang, and dri, are found in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They were – and are – plentiful on the reefs of Fiji, especially in the shallow and quiet seas that cover the wide reef flats off the leeward coasts of the two large islands. they average about eight inches in length, and are about three inches thick, though some varieties are much larger.
Ancient China trade routes: For centuries before the Fiji trade began, Chinese vessels had sought beche-de-mer on the coasts of the Indian Archipelago and New guinea; and when British and American ships began to frequent the south Pacific, the trade extended to New Caledonia, the New Hebrides and other groups. In Fiji, for some time sandalwood was too profitable for captains to concern themselves with collecting and curling beche-de-mer.
Sea-slugs: All have rough skins, thickly coated with slime. The colour varies from black or grey to dark red; in the Fiji trade, however, the commonest grades were black and red, the black being the more highly prized; nevertheless, even in these there were differences in quality, and the buyer needed some skill and practice to discriminate between them.
Sea-slug soup: The valuable kinds, of which there were said to be as six in Fiji, form the chief ingredient of a soup, believed to have great restorative properties and much in demand among the wealthy classes in China.
Collapse of the sandalwood trade: During the lull that followed the collapse of the sandalwood trade.. occasional American ships came in search of it; and by 1829 the trade began to gather momentum. In that year three ships – the Glide (306 tons) and the brig Quill (189 tons), both of Salem, and the Morliana of Tahiti – were in Fiji.