Reuters reveals that, driven by warming water, marine life is on the move and life on land is changing all the time.
Does the farming revolution mitigate climate change impacts or make them even worse?
Monday, November 19, 2018, 10:30 (GMT + 9)
As part of the series Ocean Shock, an investigation carried out by Reuters on climate change impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them has revealed the devastating effect of aquaculture in Borneo.
Different topics that Reuters has researched around the world and can be read on their website. (Photo: Reuters / Ocean Shock)
The study shows that the area that was home to mangroves, saltwater-loving trees that anchor a web of life stretching from fish larvae hatching in the cradle of their underwater roots to the hornbills squawking at their crown, had been cleared. Now the trees' benevolent presence was gone, in their place a swath of stripped soil littered with felled trunks as gray as fossils.
A Malaysian firm has bulldozed swaths of mangroves in the Tombonuo's homeland in northern Borneo to make space for plastic-lined ponds filled with millions of king prawns.
Mangroves can help mitigate the impact of rising sea levels: Their multi-tiered root systems trap sediment to raise the land around them relative to the encroaching waves.(Foto: Reuters / Ocean Shock)
At the company, Sunlight Inno Seafood, the shrimp are fattened for three months, scooped up in nets, quick-frozen, packed into 40-foot refrigerated containers and loaded onto cargo ships bound for distant ports.
The project represents only a speck in the global aquaculture industry, one of the world's fastest-growing sources of protein. Unfolding across Asia and around the world, this revolution in farming could help mitigate the impacts of climate change — or make them even worse.
Life-giving mangrove trees once stood on this spot. They were cut down to make room for a shrimp farm in this corner of Borneo.(Foto: Reuters / Ocean Shock)
As the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases causes the world's oceans to warm, ecosystems that formed hundreds of thousands of years ago are being upended in less than a human lifespan. Across the planet, fish and other marine creatures are being forced into a desperate search for cooler waters. Even coral is on the move: Some Japanese reefs are expanding northward at up to nearly nine miles per year, researchers have found.
Scientists fear a similar fate could await the Coral Triangle, a huge underwater wonderland east of Borneo endowed with a trove of biodiversity comparable to the rainforests of the Amazon Basin. Millions of people depend on its bounty to survive, a large share of them Malaysians, who eat an average of 125 pounds of fish each a year — more than double the world average.
Village leader Matakin Bondien inspects a stream where wastewater discharge flows from the Sunlight Seafood shrimp farm on the island of Borneo.(Foto: Reuters / Ocean Shock)
Forty years ago, only 5 percent of the world's fish production was farmed. After decades of rapid growth, aquaculture reached a tipping point in 2013, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, when the amount the industry raised in cages, tanks and ponds outweighed the tonnage of freely swimming fish hauled from lakes, rivers and seas for people's plates.
Since the mid-1970s, the aquaculture industry has led to the destruction of more than 1.3 million acres of mangroves spread across Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, China, Brazil and Ecuador, according to a 2013 paper in the Bulletin of Marine Science.
A worker feeds giant groupers at the Borneo Marine Research Institute hatchery. Researchers are testing how fish respond to more acidic waters. (Photo: Reuters/Ocean Shock)
Untreated waste and epidemics of shrimp-killing diseases mean the gains can be short-lived: A study published this year identified more than half a million acres of abandoned shrimp ponds in Indonesia alone.
Nevertheless, some governments in Southeast Asia and Latin America have concluded that it's worth sacrificing more mangroves in return for the export earnings and employment the projects can generate. Among them is the Malaysian state of Sabah, which is a partner in Sunlight Inno Seafood.