Mangrove Action Project

Earth Island News

Mangrove Action Project

Brazil contains the world’s second largest mangrove area - estimates suggest that over a million hectares of mangrove forest are found along Brazil’s extensive coastline. Urban expansion, oil development, the charcoal industry, roadways, and tourism have all taken their toll on large stretches of mangrove forests. Now these damaged ecosystems are facing further ruination due to shrimp aquaculture.

For many years, both MAP and Red Manglar, a Brazilian NGO dedicated to protecting mangroves and coastal ecosystems, have tried to warn Brazilians of the potential dangers their nation is facing, based on the destruction wrought by the shrimp industry in other parts of the world.

MAP Director Alfredo Quarto participated in the Manglar 2003 Conference held from May 23-28 in El Salvador, an event co-sponsored by the Instituto Internacional de Ecologia, UNESCO and other organizations. Over 200 people attended, including many Brazilian academics, some international researchers and NGOs, local aquaculturists, journalists, and many students. During this event, attention was drawn to the issues presented by the burgeoning shrimp aquaculture industry, which is now emerging as a major developmental force, and one that’s nearly impossible to control.

A conscientious local shrimp farmer, Alexandre Wainberg, gave an informative talk about Brazil’s aquaculture industry, which he was instrumental in establishing. According to Wainberg, shrimp aquaculture has existed on a small scale in Brazil since the 1970s. Until recently, the industry has grown slowly, increasing production at a steady yet manageable pace. In 2000, there were approximately 5,000 hectares of shrimp ponds in Brazil, many of which were built directly in mangrove areas. Most of the ponds, however, were built in expansive areas called salinas, or salt flats, which were former mangrove lands cleared many years ago to establish shallow salt pans. Many of these salinas have since been abandoned, and were naturally returning to mangroves. Now, unfortunately, entrepreneurs interested in shrimp farming ventures are targeting these areas. The industry is currently being primed for a rapid spurt of growth, possibly leading Brazil to take a place among the other aquaculture giants such as Thailand, Ecuador, and China. Wainberg expressed concern that without proper planning and strict management, Brazil’s shrimp industry would lead to the same environmental problems it has caused elsewhere, and all of his early efforts to establish a sustainable livelihood would be for nought. Problems include overuse of pesticides and antibiotics in the shrimp ponds themselves, excessive water pollution, devastating viral disease spread between shrimp farms, loss of important coastal marine habitat such as mangroves, mudflats, and salt flats - all resulting in wild fish declines, loss of vital migratory bird habitat and loss of traditional livelihoods for coastal communities.

A multitude of national and multinational investors is vying for space along the Brazilian coast to establish new shrimp ventures. Shrimp farmers from Ecuador’s and Taiwan’s own beleaguered coasts are coming to Brazil to restart their once-lucrative ventures anew. The Brazilian government is welcoming these investors with open arms, hoping to stimulate its often flagging economy with the influx of foreign capital.

The industry’s growth is in desperate need of monitoring and control. Sixty thousand tons of farmed shrimp were produced in 2002; production is anticipated to exceed 160,000 tons by 2005. As is so often the case, the enticement of enormous capital gains is unfortunately blinkering the Brazilian government and citizens to the dangers shrimp farming will present to the environment.

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