Mangrove. (Photo: Stock File)
Aquaculture limits: shrimp farming destroys mangroves
Tuesday, September 05, 2017, 20:30 (GMT + 9)
Shrimp aquaculture boom has aided thousands of Vietnamese farmers to get out of poverty and it has also contributed decisively to the destruction of its mangroves, vital amphibian forests to curb erosion and sea level rise. Out of the 270,000 hectares that covered the Vietnamese coast in 1980, only 60,000 remain, according to government data.
Experts attribute this deforestation to urbanization, tourism development and above all to the lucrative shrimp industry, which in 2016 exported products worth EUR 2.7 billion. "Aquaculture has expanded greatly since the 1990s and has contributed to the loss of mangroves. Now there is more awareness that we have to protect them, but there are very few and they are difficult to regenerate," says Phuc Xuan Tho, an analyst in Vietnam of the US organization Forest Trends. Of the 270,000 hectares of the Vietnamese coast in 1980 there are only 60,000 left.
Mangroves are swamp ecosystems that mix fresh and salty water and where more than 700 animal species coexist along the fragile Vietnamese coasts protecting them from the sea level rise and mitigating the effects of typhoons. However, the tangled roots of their trees are only a hindrance to producers, eager for large extensions of stagnant water for their breeding grounds.
"They cut down the mangroves to have more room for breeding," explains Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy, head of the Mangroves and Markets project, which seeks to reconcile economic benefits with environmental protection. This program, promoted by the Netherlands Development Organization (NDO), proposes an organic model of crustacean breeding that respects the mangrove and promotes its regeneration.
Started in 2012 in the southern province of Ca Mau, the country's last large mangrove reserve, it has successfully completed its first phase and has now expanded to the provinces of Tra Vinh and Ben Tre in the Mekong River Delta. "The condition is that 50 per cent of the surface area is mangrove at the end of the project. That implies a replanting effort, but also conservation of the existing mangroves," says Bich Thuy. They cut down mangroves to have more space for breeding.
NDO has organized the training of 4,100 aquaculturists, instructing them in the ecological breeding and also in the steps to follow to obtain all the necessary certifications for the crustacean exports with the organic seal. "We have had very interesting responses after the formations, the villagers change their viewpoint and understand the importance of the mangrove, they do not think about cutting down the trees in order to raise more shrimp, and many of them replant mangroves on their own," she says.
One of the ideas that explains the good response received is that thousands of inhabitants of the area are already experiencing the perverse consequences of climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Mekong Delta is one of the most exposed areas on the planet to the effects of global warming in the coming years and can lose up to 40 per cent of its surface.
In 2015 and 2016, this region, which is the most fertile in the country, experienced the worst drought recorded, thousands of tons of crops were lost and salinization due to sea level rise and low river flow turned fresh water into a scarce asset. The intrusion of salty water in the farming fields in 2006 reached 4,000 hectares and it reached 56,000 hectares in 2016, fourteen times more.