Southeast Asia would have fared better during the tsunami and the recent cyclone if the majority of the region’s coastal mangrove forests were intact. Everyone accepts that. But many of the mangroves have been cut for firewood, largely to make way for shrimp farming. The cost of the mangrove-loss to coastal fisheries is great, since much of the food chain spends its early years amongst the trees’ roots.
But the human cost, besides those lost in the flood waters, is also great: Labor abuses in the farmed shrimp industry are rampant. Read “The True Cost of Shrimp” (PDF) for details on the child labor, human trafficking, beatings, torture, and murder associated with these farms. There are also toxins that farm workers get to enjoy spraying into the shrimp pens to keep the critters from succumbing to infections. So, what to do?
Bottom line: Please don’t eat nasty farm-raised shrimp from tropical countries (every shrimp in the market or on the menu pretty much is). Support grassroots organizations — like Mangrove Action Project — which work to raise awareness of the issues surrounding imported farmed shrimp while helping communities replant their mangroves, one beautiful tree at a time.