The rapidly expanding shrimp aquaculture industry poses one of the gravest threats to the world's remaining mangrove forests and the communities they support.
We have already lost an estimated 1 million hectares of important coastal wetlands, including mangroves, in order to make room for the artificial shrimp ponds of this boom and bust industry.
Shrimp ponds range in size from 1/2 hectare to several hectares. Farms may exceed 1,000 hectares. This highly volatile enterprise has grown exponentially over the last 20 years, leaving devastating ruin in its wake.
Barbed wire and armed guards often stand between local fishing communities and the now-converted or marginalized mangroves these communities traditionally relied on for food and other resources. Also displaced are native nursery grounds of marine aquatic species, important to local economies.UNEP Image: Shrimp farm expansion in the Gulf of Fonseca (Honduras/Nicaragua); below - 1987; above - 1999. Scale = 2.5 km.
Boom and Bust Industry
Approximately 250,000 of those farmed hectares now lie abandoned because of disease and pollution. Meanwhile, the previous destructive patterns - both environmental and social - continue to be repeated in the "new frontier" shrimp countries of Latin America, Africa & the Pacific Islands.
The great earnings of shrimp culture are short-lived, while the real costs in terms of consequent environmental ruin and social disruption are long-term and astronomical! While the immediate profits from shrimp farming may satisfy a few, vast numbers of coastal residents, once dependent on healthy coastal ecosystems for fishing and farming, are being displaced and impoverished.
Lack of Regulation
The failure of national and local governments to adequately regulate the shrimp industry and enforce mangrove protection, as well as the headlong rush of multilateral lending agencies to fund aquaculture development without meeting their own stated ecological and social criteria, are other important pieces to this unfortunate puzzle.
The leading consumers of shrimp (or "prawns") are the United States, Canada, Japan, and Europe.
The fate of remaining mangrove forests may now rest in the hands of these consumers from wealthy nations which import these luxury shrimp products. Since a highly profitable and expanding market is the driving force behind the shrimp industry, a worldwide reduction in consumer demand for farmed shrimp is called for.
"Cheap Shrimp, Hidden Costs" An investigative video into the Thailand shrimp industry. Thailand is the world's largest exporter of shrimp. Here over 60% of the mangroves have been cleared for shrimp farms, reefs have been turned into underwater wastelands, and reports of forced labor are prevelant. View the video at International Reporting.
The film "Mangroves: The Roots of the Sea" can be found online on
the Science Bulletins website.
To obtain a copy of the film or for additional information,
contact the Science Bulletins department directly via email at:
The Ecologist Film Unit (Jim Wickens) article:
"Selling Indonesia's coast for cheap prawns and profit"
online now via The Ecologist.