|Water is aerated in a small shrimp / prawn farm in Chantaburi|
There are roads through the coastal areas of Chantaburi lined with large ponds that look a little like rice paddies, but there isn't any rice sticking up from the water. Instead, they're filled with shrimp - more black tiger prawns than other varieties. The water is aerated by axles extending out into the water, turning paddle wheels that agitate the water, sending a spray up into the air.
|Detail of one of the aerating paddles|
Shrimp farming is a big money maker for Thai farmers in the coastal areas of both the Gulf of Thailand and the lands bordering the Andaman sea. We drove by hundreds of these shrimp or prawn farms in the Chantaburi area, and stopped to walk in and look at a few of them.
In the areas along the Andaman sea there are almost too many farms like these; large portions of mangrove groves have been demolished to make room for them, where crab, jellyfish and small fish previously thrived in the same brackish water now used for farming the shrimp and prawns.
|Lines form a netting above many of the ponds that helps keep birds from diving in for an easy snack|
In the 1980s Thai harvest nearly 90% of the shrimp directly from natural sources, such as the Guld of Thailand. Now some estimates say as much as half of the mangrove swamp areas along the Eastern and Southern coasts have been destroyed to create farms for them, due mainly to a rise in demand for the tasty crustaceans that exploded in the 1990s spurred by government subsidies, a demand from Japan and other countries and the rising prices that came along with it.
In an attempt to save some areas, notably near Trat, the government again subsidized the planting of sago and nipa palms, which would have normally thrived in the mangrove areas. Nipa leaves can also be a cash crop; easily woven into baskets and other items, and sago meal is a traditional part of the local's diet. Both allow the natural mangrove swamps to remain where nature intended them to be.
Some locals realized that by destroying the mangrove areas - and dumping pollutants from the ponds back out into the bay or ocean was causing an imbalance that effected them directly: less fish and crab for them to harvest for their own regular consumption.
With luck, sense will win out over greed and the Thai will reach some happy compromise, allowing at least a partial restoration of the balance.