Researching Shrimp Farmings' Impacts in Thailand
year I became involved with ASIANetwork
and attended their conference. ASIANetwork is a consortium of
over 160 liberal arts colleges, including Marietta College, that works
to strengthen Asian Studies in undergraduate liberal arts education.
When I attended their conference in the spring of 2012
I learned more about one of the goals which is to strengthen
Asian Studies and Environmental Science programs, which was right in
line with my interests. I also learned
about the ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows Program at the
conference. The ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows Program
has supported collaborative undergraduate research in East and
Southeast Asia for the past 15 years. This program provides
support for groups of students lead by a faculty member or faculty pair
to travel to Asia and conduct research projects there.
was really excited about the opportunities that I learned about at the
ASIANetwork conference and at the beginning of fall semester I
invited students to help develop a proposal for the ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows Program. I
was interested in relating the research to an environmental issue, so I
asked them to consider research topics that were related to the shrimp
farming industry in Thailand. Six students began working on
research proposals and after many drafts and a competitive process, four
students' proposals were submitted with the final proposal. In February we found out that our
proposal was one of 13 in the country that had been funded. The
students have already done a lot of work on their projects in the
development of the proposal and preparation for the trip to Thailand.
The rest of this website will document some of the experiences
that they have had on the actual trip.
I would like to introduce you to the students: Eric, MaLisa,
Alina and Taylor. In the photo below they are ready to get
started on both their individual research projects and kayaking into
the mangroves. They also have plenty of water on hand to help
them stay hydrated.
So why study shrimp farming? Have
you ever wondered where the shrimp you eat comes from? In most
cases it is no longer caught, but rather grown in aquaculture
facilities. The biggest producers are in Asia, in particular in
Thailand, China and Taiwan. This is an industry that has
undergone an amazing boom over the past 3 decades and is now undergoing
additional changes to address some of the environmental and social
issues. It turns out that growing shrimp is a complex process and
it can be done in a number of ways. What tended to happen early
in the industry's history was intensive farming where shrimp were
grown at high densities. This lead to high profits, but the ponds became useless after a couple of
years because of the build up of wastes and disease. This
resulted in several problems. First, the shrimp ponds were
usually built near the coast and often replaced mangroves. The
lose of mangroves, which act as nursery areas for other species, and
the wastes that were released from the shrimp ponds could have impacts
on other marine species including commercially important fish and
shellfish. Shrimp farming also had impacts on the communities
they were located near and there were concerns about how the workers
were treated. It turns out that there are many complex and
changing issues related to getting shrimp to your dinner table.
Next time you buy shrimp at the grocery, check to see where it is
from. Hopefully this website and the research the students are
doing will help you to better understand some of the concerns
associated with how those shrimp were produced.
Getting started in Thailand:
first activity we did after starting the research projects in Thailand
was to go out and learn about one of the main ecosystems that was being
impacted by shrimp farming - mangroves. Mangroves are important,
but often overlooked and undervalued natural resources. In
Thailand concessions used to be awarded for people to cut mangroves,
with most of the wood being used to produce charcoal. Now most of
the cutting of mangroves is associated with land use issues.
traveled south from Bangkok to Krabi, about half way down the Malaysian
peninsula. We kayaked in mangroves in Ao Tha Lane, a bay to the
northwest of Krabi. This area of Thailand has some of the
healthiest mangroves forests in Thailand.
addition to being able to see the mangrove forest and the extensive
prop roots that provide a lot of structure and hiding places for
juvenile fish and shrimp, we also saw some of the birds and other
animals that live in mangroves. The lizard below is a monitor.
It was hanging out on the bank about three feet from us and was
probably a little over 3 feet long if you included the tail.
Krabi we continued on to the southeast to Trang. One of the
groups that we worked with while preparing the proposals was the Mangrove Action Project.
This group has an office in Trang, Thailand, and the people that
we spoke to in the office are working to preserve the remaining
mangroves and promote more sustainable shrimp farming and restoration
of mangroves in shrimp ponds that have been abandoned. We visited
them at their office in Trang and spent most of a day talking to Jim
and getting his impressions of the current situation and the
challenges associated with shrimp farming and mangroves. The next
we traveled with Jim and Ning from MAP and their new intern Pim to two
villages along the Andaman coast where they have mangrove restoration
projects. We visited the restoration sites which were about 50 km
from Trang in the villages of Bang Kang Khao and Laem Makham.
When we visited the sites we could see how they restored the
water flow and then let the ecosystem repair
itself. Usually they don't plant many mangroves, but just let
nature replant the area after the conditions have been improved to make
them more conducive to the growth of mangroves.
thing that was really impressive was being able to see how the flora
and fauna were interconnected. In the photo above you can see
what looks like a pile of mud, to the left of the photo, that Jim and
Ning are standing on. This is actually a mud lobster mound.
Mud lobsters are similar to crayfish in that they excavate mud
from their burrows and build a mound/chimney around the opening to
burrow. This is important for two reasons, first it aerates the
soils and second it builds these mounds that cause the elevation in the
tidal area to vary. This difference in elevation, even though it
only a foot or two is important to the diversity of the plants because
different plants need to be at different heights relative to the high
tide level. There is a picture below of a mud lobster burrow that
was about three feet across and at least a foot and a half tall.
I asked one of the people in the village whether they ate the mud
lobsters. They said they don't, but they do eat mud crabs,
which have also returned to the areas where the flow of water has been
mentioned before that for the most part MAP doesn't plant mangrove
trees. However, they do grow some mangroves in a nursery that are
planted in specific areas for educational purposes. In the
photo below, one of the people from the village that works with MAP is
showing us the different types of seeds produced by some of the 37
species of mangroves that live in Thailand.
viewing the restoration projects we sat down with several people from
the village to talk about mangroves and the relationship between the
village and the mangroves and also how the federal government was
involved in regulating the use of mangroves. They also talked to
us about some of their efforts to educate people about the value of
mangroves and they told us how the mangroves benefited their community.
After we left Jim and Ning we headed north to Kuraburi to
meet with our translator from Andaman Discoveries, the company that had
arranged our home stay. We then continued on to Ban Thale
Nok, a small Muslim village that we would be staying in for the next
are several reasons why Ban Thale Nok is an important site for the
students' research. First, it is a predominantly Muslim village,
which will be important for Taylor's research since she is interested
in looking at the relationship between communities and nature and how
religion influences that relationship. Ban Thale Nok was also
impacted by the tsunami in 2004 and 42 of the residents died in the
tsunami. That is a huge impact for a village that currently has
about 220 people. One value of mangroves that was highlighted by
the tsunami is that they act as a buffer between the ocean and land
during storms and tsunamis. Several papers have been published
documenting that communities that preserved their mangroves fared
better in the tsunami than those that didn't. Finally the
community had also worked with MAP to restore a former shrimp pond to
of the community members had claimed some land and removed the
mangroves and built three ponds. The ponds were used for shrimp
farming for a couple years, then abandoned. To encourage people
to develop land the government of Thailand has in place policies that
give a person some rights to land if they "improve" it.
Unfortunately this often runs into conflict with community land
and resources as it has in Ban Thale Nok. In any case, the
community and MAP were able to convince the person that built the ponds
to let them restore tidal flow to one of the ponds three years ago.
MaLisa made measurements in the restored area and in natural
mangroves near by for comparison. She is interested in assessing
how abandoned shrimp ponds differ from mangroves and how the
restoration process helps to reverse the process and help mangroves
become reestablished. Conducting the transects in the restored
area was pretty easy (muddy and some plants, but not too difficult).
In contrast the transect in the natural mangroves was a challenge.
Imagine trying to do a transect while climbing through a "jungle
gym" that is located in knee deep mud.
didn't take any pictures while we were actually doing the transect in
the mangroves, although I really wish I had pictures from that.
Unfortunately, at the time I was more concerned with staying
upright and out of the mud. This picture was taken as MaLisa and
Bon Him, our guide, were returning to the starting point of the
transect. For the transect MaLisa collected densitometry data
(how dense the vegetation is), measured the soil pH, and identified any
plants within 1 meter of the transect points. We also collected
soil samples that will be analyzed for phosphorous and nitrogen levels
when we get back to Marietta College.
While living in Ban
Thale Nok it was very obvious that the people used the mangroves as a
source of a number of resources. The woman in the picture below
is shucking clams that were collected from a channel that runs through
We also saw two women collecting clams from the
restored pond when we were doing the transect.
other products that are taken from the mangroves include mud crabs that
are caught in traps (see photo 1 below) and Nypa palm fronds that are
made into thatch and also can be stripped and dried for use as
cigarette wrappers, which sell for 5 Baht for a pack of wrappers (photo
the first picture above the woman across the street from our home stay
had stripped the cuticle from the fronds and gave us the stripped
fronds. We were helping her by twisting the fronds so they would
dry evenly. The second photo to the right shows the Nypa drying
on the road. Luckily I got a picture of this the first day we
were in the village because it wasn't good drying weather after that.
What that means is that it rained for most of the next three days
that we were in Ban Thale Nok.
From the interviews that Taylor
and Alina were conducting we learned that most people in Ban Thale Nok
didn't think they were impacted by shrimp farming, because there aren't
any active shrimp farms directly in the village. We also learned
that most people didn't think that jobs in shrimp farming were very
desirable. The people in Ban Thale Nok preferred to work for
themselves and many of them either ran stores, or produced a product,
or farmed some land.
To learn more about shrimp farming
we had to do some traveling. First we went to a shrimp farm that
had agreed to meet with us. However, when we actually arrived
they decided that they would rather not talk to us. All that we
learned from that visit was that all of their workers, except for the
manager were Burmese. After this disappointment we traveled to
the next village over. This village has a large shrimp farm
operating in the village. Alina and Taylor were able to have
people fill out their survey and conducted a couple of short interviews
in the limited amount of time that we had in this village. I
didn't get pictures of them interviewing because I didn't want to make
the subjects nervous.
outside of this village there is an abandoned shrimp pond (see photo below).
Unfortunately this pond is not going to revert to mangroves as it
has been ditched and oil palms have been planted on the high parts.
This is a common fate for abandoned shrimp ponds.
in the day we met with the manager from another shrimp farm. He
met with us for an hour and provided us with a lot of information about
the economics of running a shrimp farm, the regulations that are
imposed by the government and foreign importers. There are no
photos from this visit and interview because he asked us not to take
any photos of him or the farm.
Some miscellaneous pictures from Ban Thale Nok:
picture below is our house mother at our home stay. Da was a
wonderful cook and also ran a business selling chili paste at the local
market and from her house. The picture is from the market.
It turns out she was also a great source of information on shrimp
farming. Several year ago a friend that
was managing a shrimp farm asked her to work for him at the farm. She worked for him as an accountant,
so she knew a lot about the operation of the farm and how much money
went to different expenses. Eventually she decided to quit
because she felt that she was being asked to take on too much responsibility
for the amount that she was paid.
next picture is of the female students heading back to their home stay.
Motorcycles are the primary mode of transportation in Ban Thale
Nok, although they aren't like the motorcycles you would expect to see
in the states. This motorcycle has a side cart and comfortably
seats the driver and 4-6 passengers. It was only a short ride and
on a level well paved road - so I felt fairly comfortable with them
getting a ride.
had been frustrating arranging interviews with shrimp farms.
Either they outright refused to meet with us, or they were
concerned about how the information was going to be used and didn't
want anyone to know that they had talked to us. When we left the
home stay and went back to Kuraburi we were able to arrange a meeting
with a friend of our translator, Pi Nat. Her friend was very open
and willing to talk to us about their family owned shrimp farm,
although he was also a little bit concerned that other people might
find out that he talked to us. He told us about the challenges
that they were facing with Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS), a new
disease that had been causing problems in several countries, and how
they were trying to combat this disease. He also talked to us
about the market for shrimp and how even though the costs for food to
feed the shrimp had gone up, the price of shrimp had not gone up
because of the increased global production. He explained the
process involved in registering as a shrimp farm and what documents
were needed to be certified to produce shrimp for export. He was
also open to talking about labor issues and then took us on a tour of
the shrimp ponds and talked to us about how they manage the ponds and
tested the water quality. This ended up being one of the most
informative interviews that we had so far.
photo below is an aerial view of Ban Thale Nok from GoogleEarth.
To the far left is the ocean "B". "BTN" indicates the area where
the village was relocated to after the tsunami and the school was moved
to the top of a hill overlooking the village - labeled with an
"S". The abandoned shrimp ponds are to the left of and below the
"X". The U-shaped pond just below the "X" is the one that MAP worked with
the village to restore. The natural mangrove area where we
conducted a transect was near the label "M".
I should mention that as I am working on updating the website I am sitting in Lumphini Park in Bangkok .
I just watched the sun rise and now there are groups of people
doing aerobics and a group practicing Tai Chi in front of me. It is a very peaceful location
in a huge city (see below).
spent one day in Bangkok making arrangements for interviews. The
students worked with Ju, our translator, to make contacts and send out
The following four photos were taken by Alina.
was a busy, but productive day and we were able to arrange a meeting
with Blue Aqua for the next morning before we were scheduled to catch a
bus to Laem Sing. Blue Aqua
is a company that manufactures and distributes specialty equipment and
supplies for aquaculture facilities. Blue Aqua sells and helps
develop aquaculture systems that take a scientific approach to
aquaculture. Blue Aqua also publishes a quarterly magazine that
addresses issues in aquaculture and presents the current research on
those topics to a lay audience. We were able to arrange an
interview with Dr. Shishehchian, the president and CEO of the company.
It was a very interesting interview that began by him giving us
an overview of the company and how their goal was to provide products
that helped their customers to increase profits and also contributed to
sustainable aquaculture. The interview then moved on to broader
topics such as regulations, labor issues and the markets for shrimp and
rode on a bus for 4 hours to Chanthaburi, then found a taxi at the bus
station to take us to Laem Sing. On the map at the beginning of
this web page Laem Sing's location is indicated with a red "x" just
below Chanthaburi in the eastern part of Thailand.
Laem Sing is
a coastal tourist town, well sort of. It is a tourist town during
the dry season, but since this is the wet season it is much quieter
now. Even when it is busy they mainly have Thai tourists so there
is very little signage in English and many restaurants don't have menus
with any other language than Thai. This posed some challenges,
especially the first morning when we went out to get breakfast.
If ordering from a Thai menu was a test of our Thai language
abilities I guess we passed, but we didn't earn a good grade. We
ended up getting food for everyone, but three out of five got something
different than they requested.
are several reasons for coming to Laem Sing, first it is surrounded by
shrimp farms and second it is largely a Buddhist community.
uniform rectangular areas and circular areas are fish or shrimp ponds.
In the close up below you can even see the aerators around the
edge of several of the ponds.
Another reason is that one of the largest shrimp farms in the
area is Sureerath Prawns,
a farm that claims to be organic on their website. We were really
hoping to meet with a representative from Sureerath Prawn because we
wanted to know what challenges they had faced in going organic as well
as the advantages they saw in their decision. From their website
Sureerath Prawn seems to be a large shrimp farm that is addressing many
of the problems that have been associated with shrimp farming in the
past and we were hoping to learn from their experiences.
Unfortunately it was very difficult to get in contact with them,
which has been frustrating. We sent e-mails in English and Thai,
tried to call several times and faxed a letter in Thai explaining why
we wanted to meet with them. We received no response from them.
When we got to Laem Sing and finally got in touch with them we
were told they would not meet with us. This is in contrast to
their website that invites visits from interested people, so we suspect
that there was some cultural miscommunication involved.
of this, we had to adapt our plans somewhat. We continued with
our plans to collect surveys from local residents and interview local
officials, but we also added some additional meetings that we hadn't
originally planned on. On our second day in Laem Sing we traveled
to the provincial town of Chanthaburi to speak with a representative of
the Chanthaburi Provincial Office of Labour Protection and Welfare.
This turned out to be a very productive interview that provided a
lot of information about the status of foreign workers in the province
and labor regulations. The representatives that we met with were
very helpful and were able to adjust their schedules to allow for an
interview that lasted for over an hour.
Photo by Alina Kielbasa.
After this meeting we got noodles for lunch in Chanthaburi then continued on to the Kung Krabaen Bay Royal Development Study Center.
This is one of six centers that have been set up in different
areas of Thailand by the royal family. The purpose of these study
centers is to encourage development projects that would allow rural
communities to be self-reliant. The center's goal is to provide
education on occupational and agricultural techniques that are specific
for local conditions. It is an amazing facility that includes a
conference center, class rooms, an aquarium, a walkway through the
mangroves and demonstration facilities where the techniques are being
used. We started our tour of the facilities with a meeting with
two people that told us about the mission of the Royal Study Centers
and answered questions that we had. They then took us on a walk
in the mangroves and we finished up by visiting the aquarium.
photo above and to the left is a demonstration on how to farm oysters
by hanging them on racks. We saw many examples of people using
this technique in the Chanthaburi River near Laem Sing. The photo
to the right is in the large tank at the aquarium.
benefit of our visit to the Kung Krabaen Bay Study Center was that we
arranged for MaLisa's last two study locations on mangroves. The
professional fisheries biologist at the center gave us permission to
collect the samples we needed as long as we sent him a copy of the
report. We came back to the study session the next day at low
tide to collect the samples that we needed in a natural mangrove area
and in an area that had been replanted with a mono-culture of one type
of Rhizophora mangroves.
Mangroves - replanted all the same species evenly spaced.
After the transect we were a little bit muddy.
returned to the Bangkok the day before we were supposed to return to
the states. The plan was to have a full day to tie up loose ends,
conduct a couple of remaining interviews and get ready to head home.
MaLisa and I had applied for and received a permit to receive
soil samples from the USDA and we spent a good part of the day
packaging the samples and arranged to have the soil samples shipped
The rest of the students met with the Thai Shrimp Farmers Association and spoke to the National Fisheries.
next morning we were catching taxis at 3 AM to head to the airport and
on our way back to Columbus, Ohio. Twenty seven hours later we
got to the Columbus airport and we were almost home.