Shrimp farming: A coastal catastrophe

In this day and age where practically every developed country has an open economy, it’s hard to know where every single piece of food or other products people purchase in their daily life, comes from and how it affects the world around them. Truth be told, one probably won’t like what there is to learn about the food they eat and what it took to get it on their plate. Would you rather live, disregarding the effects of your actions and power to influence, or take the time to educate yourself about the horrific lengths companies will go to make profit?

Commercialized shrimp farming is something that has been going on for centuries and has no indication of slowing down anytime soon. Around 90 percent of all shrimp bought and sold in the United States is imported from Asia, most notably Thailand, and Latin America. These regions are ideal for this type of aquaculture due to their tropical climate and abundance of mangrove wetlands along their coasts. Shrimp and mangroves are intertwined in such a way that it’s as if shrimp farms are a parasitic leech clinging to and sucking the life of the grandiose beast that are the mangrove forests.

Wetlands, marshes and swamps are often thought of as murky wastelands, but that assumption couldn’t be more wrong. Wetlands provide homes for some of the most diverse wildlife and vegetation. Biodiversity is vital to a strong sustainable environment as it ensures that species can better withstand and recover from disaster as well as offer pollution control and ecological recycling.

That only touches the surface of what these forests of the sea provide to the environment. Wetlands filter water of harmful bacteria before it moves on to rivers and other bodies of water. They do this by acting as a giant strainer, absorbing noxious microorganisms and breaking them down into harmless substances. Without these sloughs, nearby villages lack access to clean, drinkable groundwater.

On top of that, when mangroves are destroyed, these villages lose more than just drinking water. They lose food, resources for building shelters and supplies to make various tools as well. Cultivated foods such as honey, seafood, edible algae and fruits are in turn left unreachable by locals. With trigger-happy guards patrolling the farms, it becomes too risky to try and move through the mangroves as needed. What’s worse is very little of the shrimp produced is actually consumed in the country it came from, due to the majority getting exported to wealthier nations.

A former Ecuadorian employee, Peter Segura, describes what the working conditions at shrimp farms were like at the farms in the book “Let Them Eat Shrimp.” He worked at several farms over the course of 10 years starting in 1985.

He explained how dangerous the work was, “The workers handled fuels, growth hormones, and the preservative metabisulphite without protection. If a worker complained, he was fired.” Along with all this hazardous exposure, they worked long hours with very little pay.

Segura told the author, “I saw fish dying, mangroves being cut down, and people being treated like slaves.” He felt it was wrong that the government “could do whatever it wanted with the laws, the ecosystem, and the people.”

Since quitting he became politically involved with the community, working to improve the state of the surrounding environment and the livelihoods of the people.

Unfortunately, despite Segura’s efforts, in the years after he renounced his position the conditions of coasts have only worsened. The sheer amount of coastal terrain used for this type of aquaculture is absurd. For every single acre of space within a shrimp farm there are up to 200 acres called “shadow acres,” which are the spaces of land and water around the farm that absorb the horrific ecological costs of shrimp farming. Shrimp require fresh water in order to thrive. This means that once the pond water gets filled with too much fecal waste, chemicals, fertilizers and saline, it then gets pumped out into the surrounding waterways further polluting everything in its path.

The immense costs of exporting factory shrimp all around the world is simply not worth the ecological footprint, environmental costs and the societal issues that arise in the poor countries producing the shrimp. The next time you decide to eat anything, whether produce or meat, take into consideration where it came from and what it took to get it on your plate. The more people’s actions weigh on their conscience, the sooner we can actually make a change to stop promoting the destruction of our planet for mere economic profit.