Archive for November, 2010

Habitat Rustic Furniture

Monday, November 29th, 2010

The Disappearance of Ecuador’s Mangroves

Ecuador may be considered a “hotspot,” but the tagline doesn’t refer to a Spring Break destination. Ecuador is one of the leading countries in the world at risk of losing its biodiversity, and with it the livelihoods, culture and identity of many Ecuadorians. Due mainly to the shrimp aquaculture industry, Ecuador’s precious mangroves are being destroyed at an alarming rate. GVN’s Megan Tady interviewed Veronica Yepez, communications officer with Redmanglar Internacional, a non-profit based in Ecuador, that works to preserve mangroves, to find out why mangroves are vital for the environment, and how volunteers play an important role in safeguarding them.

Mangrove: Forests that grow in coastal habitats and shallow water in tropical and subtropical coastal regions.

GVN: Why is Ecuador a “Biodiversity Hotspot?”

Yepez: Although Ecuador is only 1.6 percent of the landmass of South America, it harbors one of the Earth’s greatest concentrations of biodiversity. Worldwide, Ecuador is considered one of the planet’s top 17 most biologically diverse nations. The country’s geographic and climatic variations have led to the evolution of thousands of species of flora and fauna.

GVN: Why are mangroves important to biodiversity? Why are they vital for communities?

Yepez: The country benefits from the presence of the mangrove ecosystem, one of the top five most productive ecosystems of the world. Its natural richness benefits the communities of indigenous traditional users of the mangrove ecosystem (mainly fishery-workers and cockle gatherers). The mangrove ecosystem is in fact their livelihood and in this ecosystem they have developed their culture; therefore, the mangroves are a socio-cultural reference for the communities. Moreover, mangroves protect the villages with the stabilization of the coastal fringes, preservation of the quality of the waters, climate regulation and erosion prevention. This ecosystem also assures the fisheries’ sustainability since it’s a nursery area for most of the fish species that inhabit the oceans.

GVN: What factors have contributed to the degradation of mangroves?

Yepez: In Ecuador there has been a loss of approximately 70 percent of the original mangrove ecosystem. The major reason for this loss has been the shrimp industry that has encroached on the mangrove ecosystem of the four coastal provinces of the country since the 70’s. Other factors such as industrial tourism as well as growth of the cities have also damaged this natural resource.

GVN: What should people in the Western world know about the shrimp they are eating that comes from Ecuador?

The most important thing to explain to Northern consumers is the way shrimp is cultivated so that they can have a clear idea of the problem. Most people believe that shrimp are naturally grown in the ocean, but that is not true. Shrimp aquaculture involves the deforestation of hectares of mangrove forests in order to build ponds for shrimp larvae to develop. Furthermore, the places where shrimp ponds are built include a dam that makes a barrier for the pond. But this same dam denies the possibility for the normal flow of waters inside and outside this brackish forest. Because this doesn’t allow water to be recyled, most of the remaining mangroves right behind a shrimp pond are not safe anymore and dry up. Shrimp aquaculture, which was formerly called the “blue revolution” and was supposed to “stop world hunger,” is actually a luxury product for the consumption of the Northern countries. Just 5 percent of the enormous production of the shrimp industry in Ecuador remains in the country; 95 percent is for the export market.

Shrimp aquaculture in Ecuador is not only responsible for the ecological damage of the coastal resources but also for the displacement and impoverishment of the communities of indigenous traditional fisher-workers and cockle-gatherers who have lost their livelihoods.

GVN: The shrimp industry brings in big bucks. Some may argue that the income generated from shrimps can justify the ecological costs…so what is the problem?

Yepez: Yes, this is difficult to visualize from an outside point of view. In 1998, the top production year for the shrimp industry, Ecuador exported 153,729 metric tons of shrimp that returned a revenue of $875 million. That same year shrimp exports became the country’s third highest exportation item, after oil and bananas.

This amazing production for the next year fell due mainly to shrimp diseases and sickness caused mainly by the disordered and wrongly designed operation. Yet afterwards this industry, with the help and confidence of the government and international financing institutions, has been able to recover its spot.

On the other hand, in this same period the socio-economic conditions in the country, further from improving and becoming better, got just the “wastes” of the shrimp production.

Parishes that benefit from the presence of the mangrove ecosystem are inhabited by approximately 1 million people, with tight links to the economic dynamic of the marine and coastal resources for whom the mangrove ecosystem is vital. The economic conditions of these people are of a very harsh significant poverty. The concept of significant poverty comprises factors such as income insufficiency, physical weakness, dependency, geographical isolation, lack of education and access to services and information, vulnerability and lack of power. From this point of view, the official statistics show that the poverty of the population that inhabits the mangrove ecosystem zones is more extreme than the national average. For example malnutrition in these areas arises to 45 percent in average.

GVN: I thought shrimp farming was illegal-why is it still happening?

Yepez: Shrimp farming itself is not an illegal activity. What is certainly illegal since 1978 is to establish shrimp ponds inside mangrove areas. Cutting down mangroves is forbidden by more than one law. Nevertheless-and this is one of the main and maybe the worst thing about shrimp farming-although the majority of shrimp ponds are located inside the mangrove ecosystem or in saline areas which are legally recognized as part of this ecosystem, the shrimp entrepreneurs, with the help of a complex net of corruption that has involved authorities and government departments, have official papers that declare their location as “upper zones,” not beaches and bays to deny any presence of mangrove ecosystem.

GVN: Who makes money from shrimp? Does it “trickle down” to the communities? Does it even stay in the country?

Yepez: The shrimp farming industry is a clear example of inequity. Constituted by foreigner entrepreneurs (foreigner mainly in terms of Ecuadorians that are not from the areas were the shrimp ponds are located), the industry obtained a record sum of $875 million (1998), enriching a productive chain of just 12 big export companies.

This shrimp industry in the land has assembled big fortunes around the same economic and political powerful group and has left a structured poverty situation in the rest of the country. No dynamic flow of income for the local economies has been possible in this profit relation.

The national population that inhabits the mangrove areas is drastically poorer than the national average (61.3%). In the mangrove zones 81.68% of the inhabitants are poor and 89.07% have no elementary basic services provision. In average, 11.29% out of this population is illiterate.

GVN: Aquaculture provides employment in many ways, so what are the alternatives for local communities?

Yepez: Shrimp farms are raised by one or two families (or sometimes just three or four guards) that work in dozens of hectares of shrimp ponds. On the other hand, in former times when the mangroves were not all damaged, each hectare of mangrove ecosystem provided livelihood for 10 entire families of indigenous traditional mangrove users. The employment provided by the shrimp industry are temporary positions with low salaries and no benefits (social security, health, etc.).

Local communities still-and now more than before-believe in community development and the community management of the natural resources for the benefit of the local economies. Mangroves traditionally are “common lands” where the communities were able to develop themselves in a tight relation with the nature. The actual economic model that points out the importance of revenues regardless of the social and environmental impacts is a path that shall not continue. GVN: In Ecuador, how is environmental degradation often an issue of environmental racism?

Since the colonial time in the country an agro-exporter bourgeoisie emerged linked to the financial capital and the appropriation of the common lands and the natural resources, and this bourgeoisie was -and still is- also linked to the political leading of the nation.

Since this stage it has been a systematic practice to deprive the local communities (indigenous and afro Ecuadorians) from their natural resources and make them servants.

Therefore, rich and powerful shrimp farms were able to conquer authorities and change official documents to deprive the local communities from their lands and make them “productive” areas for “national revenue generation”.

GVN: Once devastated, can a mangrove ever recover?

Yepez: If the devastated areas have not been abandoned for long, there is a possibility to start a process of recovery, but when a drastic change has taken place, it is almost impossible. Mangrove restoration is very slow and it is never possible to recover its primary state. But the characteristics of the mangrove plants and seedling allow their own natural re-planting, therefore zones that were devastated and then left without actual soil changes start growing again. But of course, to recover the dynamics of the ecosystem takes a long time.

GVN: How does the loss of mangroves create a loss in culture and identity for communities?

Yepez: For the traditional populations of the mangrove areas, their ecosystem is more than a source of alimentary provision and livelihood; it inspires their artistic and culture sense. The mangrove resources have allowed these communities to obtain housing, rustic furniture, vessels, working tools for fishing and hunting, etc. And it also developed into a cultural referent and an element of identity and cohesion

The loss of the mangroves also resulted in the displacement of entire communities and the migration of a great majority of inhabitants of the rural areas of the coast. The statistics reveal that in 2001, almost half a million Ecuadorians left the country.

GVN: The situation sometimes seems so dire. How do you remain hopeful that you can make a difference?

Yepez: We believe that this economic model that deeply affects the Earth and the communities shall not continue. We have been able to stop some shrimp farming activities with the organization of the communities and their desire to work together towards the community development in harmonic relation with nature. Two mangrove protected areas in the country have been declared after the community pressured the authorities. Nowadays more mangroves are part of the national system of protected areas and natural parks. We were also able to receive Community Concessions of mangrove areas through a legal decree in 1999, before which just shrimp farming activities received beaches and bays concessions.

GVN: Hundreds of international volunteers go to Ecuador each year to work along Ecuadorians to help secure its biodiversity. How does it affect communities knowing that strangers care about their plight?

Yepez: Our aim, with international volunteers, is to let them witness the problem of the shrimp industry and to spread this information to their communities back home. We are grateful to know that people, regardless of their nationality, can share our daily life and help us with their own knowledge. Our communities are open places for the common wealth.

GVN: What can the rest of the world learn from Ecuador’s environmental situation?

Yepez: This issue about shrimp farming in Ecuador should be published the “lessons learned” chapter so that pristine mangrove areas around the world will not allow shrimp ventures. Nevertheless, new mangroves have been destroyed in the last years in Brazil, and we have notices that the shrimp venture is now entering Africa too. We realize that anywhere in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world where the mangrove ecosystem is located, the communities that inhabit the surroundings of this forest are always fish workers with no political and economic power. Despite this, we do believe that the organization of the folks is essential to stop the abuse over the resources and the common people.

For more information on volunteering check out:

For more great articles on volunteering check out:

© 2000-2007 Global Volunteer Network

About the Author

Megan Taddy is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Journalism and International Studies who completed a media internship with Global Volunteer Network (GVN), an organisation that helps connect volunteers with communities in need.

Please ensure that all GVN content has an accreditation to the GVN website. You may not directly or indirectly change, edit, add to or produce summaries of the GVN content. A courtesy copy of your publication would be greatly appreciated.

Jana opens a can O Whoop Ass

habitat rustic furniture
habitat rustic furniture