Since the ’70s, Thailand’s governments have urged the citizens of the Kingdom to invest and develop intensive and semi-intensive shrimp farms, and the initiative quickly catched. Many farmers turned to shrimp production, and in a couple of years Thailand became the world’s third largest shrimp exporter. But the creation of somany ponds for shrimp production meant a downfall in other directions: thousands of hectares of mangroves were put down in order to make room for the shrimp farms.
On the long term, the strategy proved to be disastrous for the ecosystem in the areas where it was employed: mangroves are known to act as a so-called doctor, purifying the waters and housing dozens of species of marine animals. The shrimp farms became unstable and many producers woke up one day to discover their shrimp dead, floating in the ponds.
“The shrimp used to get sick, and I lost all of them several times. Some years, I could make a lot of money; in others, I could lose everything,” explains Noppadol, a shrimp farmer living in Kanchanadit, a district in the province of Surat Thani in Southern Thailand.
Another danger to the ecosystem came from the antibiotics, fertilisers, disinfectants and pesticides used in intensive shrimp farms. Sometimes, the contaminated waters were dumped in rivers and other natural streams of water without being treated, causing environmental disasters. The solution was at hand, though, and with some help and good advice from neighbours, farmers managed to balance the hazard of losing their production by planting mangroves. The trees are essential in everyday life, say specialists, who urge locals to do their best for the recovery of mangrove forests.
“We often refer to mangroves as the supermarket for the local people because, there, they have some building supplies, food supplies, shelter and medicines. So people have been traditionally relying on the mangroves for all those things in the local fishing communities,” said Jim Enright, the Asia coordinator for the Mangrove Action Project, an NGO that promotes the recovery of mangrove forests.
According to a report from the Environmental Justice Foundation, shrimp aquacultures have been a major contributor to global mangrove forest loss, and in a number of countries, it is considered to be the biggest threat to these ecosystems. The report estimates that as much as 38 percent of recent mangrove loss may be due to shrimp farm development.