My stomach performed a series of backflips as the plane shuddered and dropped a foot. We were flying from Guayaquil to a small island off the coast, in a tiny puddle jumper, barely large enough to fit four people comfortably. The pilot flew above patches of dark green mangroves, which form a natural belt of protection for the shrimp farms. The view from the plane showed us just how much of the mangroves had been deforested during the process of creating the shrimp enclosures.
We landed on the narrow “runway” for the plane and hopped into the Gator (a bright green industrial golf cart). The golf cart zipped between the square pools of shrimp, balancing on thin strips of land, until we came to an abrupt stop at a wide canal leading to the Gulf. The channel leading from the farms to the Gulf contained the highest concentration of mangroves, which actually provided the farm with ecosystem services, providing protection from weather and holding the substrate firmly in place.
The private sector plays a key role in the economy of developing countries and can have positive impacts in the form of jobs and social factors. On the other hand, sometimes the environment can suffer, so we see the importance of open communication with private companies to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and encourage responsible stewardship of the environment. We understand that the benefits of being environmentally friendly (better labels, certifications, more competitive price, positive image) need to outweigh the additional costs to have an enticing proposition. One shrimp farmer compared reaching out to the private sector like riding a taxi, “Just because some taxi drivers are reckless and crazy, that doesn’t mean you won’t take a taxi when you need to.” Violent pirates and lack of information and communication between stakeholders further convoluted the issue. The latter is an integral part of our toolkit; we are seeing this missing link in all our field expeditions, interviews, and workshops.
We took a tour of the shrimp enclosures, facilities, mangroves, and the farm’s attempts at reforestation (led by two students from the states). The students lacked the science, technique, and knowledge of the local people. The farm seemed open to performing more reforestation and willing to pay for labor and additional costs, but want to work with people who have the knowledge of how and where to reforest. The shrimps in the farms were large, about the size of our hands and very fat. They sell their shrimp to companies in the EU and USA. The farm we visited was more innovative than traditional farms. They are experimenting with feeding the shrimps insects instead of fishmeal and have banned the use of antibiotics.
We hope that we can engage the private sector in further discussions and facilitate communication between all the stakeholders. In addition to touring the shrimp farms, we have begun to visit the local concessions and see what Blue Carbon means to the people of Ecuador at the community level.