Shrimp pose big threat to mangroves

Actions worldwide celebrate Day of the Mangrove

Feature story - 23 July, 2003
Shrimp. So small and tasty, how much damage could they possibly cause? If the shrimp you eat grew in ponds carved from mangrove areas, the answer is: acres and acres of it.

Panoramic view of a red mangrove forest, breeding ground for a diverse group of fish, shellfish, and other wildlife.

Mangroves, the coastal equivalent to rain forests, provide homes for an amazing range of plant and animal life, support the livelihood of local communities, and defend the coast from erosion and storms. The single greatest threat to mangroves worldwide is shrimp farming. July 26th marks the first International Day of the Mangroves, when fisher-folk from all over the world will demonstrate for mangrove conservation and against the shrimp industry.

Previously a luxury item only consumed during certain periods of the year, shrimp is now turning into an everyday product. Consumers in the US, Japan, and the European Union--the main importers--are often not aware of the destruction that lies behind one of their favourite dishes. While the price of shrimp and prawns goes down for consumers, the cost to people in producing countries continues to rise.

Shrimp farming requires the clear-cut of mangroves to build ponds. Once the mangroves are ripped out, the coast is rendered unstable and many creatures lose their habitat. Fish catches decline and ecosystems are knocked out of balance. The ponds are treated with antibiotics, pesticides, and fish-feeds--the toxic mix often dumped into the surrounding land or waterways. Local communities depend on this coastal ecology for their food and livelihood. In addition to the loss of biodiversity, the destruction of mangrove areas also means the loss of access for these coastal communities to their only source of income.

Thirty percent of the shrimp and prawns produced worldwide came from aquaculture in 2001, and the share continues to grow. As demand for shrimp increases, so will the drive of the shrimp industry and the destruction of the mangroves. About 35 percent of mangroves worldwide have been lost in the last 20 years.

International Day of the Mangroves

On July 26th, fisher-folk from all over the world will demonstrate for mangrove conservation and against the shrimp farming industry. They will form small flotillas, calling attention to the expansion of the industry and the resulting destruction of their livelihoods. Actions are planned in over a dozen countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Kenya, Nigeria, Germany, and the US. Until this year, the 26th had been a commemoration day just in Ecuador. This is the first year it becomes an international day of action.

July 26th holds existing significance for the movement in Latin America. On July 26, 1998, the ancestral users of the Ecuadorian mangroves joined in an action to re-establish the mangrove dynamics in an illegal shrimp pond. Working with the support of various organisations from Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia and the US, along with the crew of the Rainbow Warrior, the communities denounced the actual costs of shrimp consumption.

That same day, the National Coordinator in Defence of the Mangroves in Ecuador was created. A public statement delivered to the National Authorities claimed to stop mangrove destruction and promoted handover of the forests to the organised grass-root communities.

In 1999 the government passed an Executive Decree that forbids any attempt to destroy the Ecuadorian mangroves and opens the possibility for the community concessions in mangrove areas. The laws are constantly broken by powerful shrimp industrials, but the empowerment of local residents is one of our main strengths to protect the environment.

July 26th also commemorates the day in 1998 when a Greenpeace activist from Micronesia, Hayhow Daniel Nanoto, died of a heart attack while involved in a massive protest action led by FUNDECOL and Greenpeace. During this action the local community of Muisne joined us in dismantling an illegally placed shrimp pond in an attempt to restore the damaged zone back to its former state as a mangrove forest.

The global protests will be the beginning of a stronger international network of small-scale fisher organisations and non-governmental organisations against the shrimp industry. The flotillas will be formed near cities and towns where industrial shrimp farming and mangrove loss are problems.