In order to reveal the effects of l-tryptophan (Trp) on the physiology and immune response of sea cucumber (Apostichopus japonicus Selenka) exposed to crowding stress, four density groups of sea cucumbers (i.e. 4, 8, 16 and 32 individuals per 40 L water, represented as L, ML, MH and H) were fed with diets containing 0, 1, 3 and 5% l-tryptophan respectively for 75 days. The results showed that the specific growth rates (SGR) of the sea cucumber fed with diet with 3% Trp (L, 2.1; ML, 1.76; MH, 1.2; H, 0.7) were significantly higher than those fed with basal diet without Trp supplementation (P < .05). Peak amylase activity occurred at H stress density at 3% dietary Trp. Trypsin activity was higher in diet 3% in ML and MH densities than the controls, which increased by 66.4% and 53.8%. However, the lipase activity first increased and then decreased from the stocking density L to H, with highest values of 3% Trp group showed the highest value than other groups. Compared to those fed with the basal diet, sea cucumber fed diets with Trp (3%) had significantly higher phagocytic activities (0.28 OD540/106 cells, H) in coelomic fluid and respiratory burst activities (0.105 OD630/106 cells, MH) (P < .05). The results suggested that Trp cannot improve superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity at L, ML and MH densities. The alkaline phosphatase activity (AKP) significantly decreased at H stress density. Under the experimental conditions, the present results confirmed that a diet supplemented with 3% Trp was able to enhance intestinal enzyme activities, non-specific immune response and higher growth performance of A. japonicus.