I love shrimp. Not just as sources of surprising insights into the evolution of social life. They’re tasty too. Too much so in fact. Despite my attempts to fit into a dainty little ecological footprint, I’ve always found it difficult to pass up shrimp on the menu despite the fact that they’re generally considered by environmentalist types to be, well, the devil.
Getting shrimp to your plate typically has alarming ecological costs, not only from wild fisheries, which produce ghastly amounts of bycatch (the fisheries term for what the military calls collateral damage) but also from aquaculture farms, which have often amounted to slash-and-burn operations that are played out in a few years and waste the local habitats and water quality.
Must it be this way? Maybe not, as Andrew Revkin has highlighted at Dot Earth. This new video tells the story of Linda Thornton, the self-described “Grandma of shrimp farming” in Belize, who has dedicated her life to solving this problem and may now hold the secret to making shrimp farming sustainable, based on her many years of experience farming there.
The shrimp farming issue hits close to home for me since I’ve worked in Belize at the Smithsonian’s field research station off the coast for many years. I’ll never forget the day maybe ten years ago flying there in a small plane over the dense mangrove jungle of the Belize coastal plain, as I had done nearly every year, suddenly seeing plumes of smoke everywhere rising from the green blanket below me. What the . . .?
Shrimp farming had come to Belize. And now, every time I visit, there are more–big square, shallow basins hewn out of the mangrove swamps and teeming with farmed shrimp. Well, people gotta eat. But do they have to trash the land and sea to do so?
Linda Thornton has developed a new way for shrimp farming, and perhaps for aquaculture generally–using no antibiotics or chemicals, and long-term recycling the pond water. It’s working in Belize and, with help from both environmental groups and aquaculturists, the approach is now gaining traction to move elsewhere in the world. Check out this video, made by a class at Pace University: