Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea
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In Let Them Eat Shrimp, Kennedy Warne takes readers into the muddy battle zone that is the mangrove forest. A tangle of snaking roots and twisted trunks, mangroves are often dismissed as foul wastelands. In fact, they are supermarkets of the sea, providing shellfish, crabs, honey, timber, and charcoal to coastal communities from Florida to South America to New Zealand. Generations have built their lives around mangroves and consider these swamps sacred.
To shrimp farmers and land developers, mangroves simply represent a good investment. The tidal land on which they stand often has no title, so with a nod and wink from a compliant official, it can be turned from a public resource to a private possession. The forests are bulldozed, their traditional users dispossessed.
The true price of shrimp farming and other coastal development has gone largely unheralded in the U.S. media. A longtime journalist, Warne now captures the insatiability of these industries and the magic of the mangroves. His vivid account will make every reader pause before ordering the shrimp.
“Let me catch the cockles first, and don’t give them to outsiders.” I ask Aracely if there is anything she enjoys about the job. She laughs and says: “A lot of money in your hand.” That fistful of dollars is getting harder to come by. The cockle stocks are in decline. A skillful conchera used to be able to collect 700 to 800 shellfish a day; now 100 is considered a good haul. Concheras receive less than 10 cents a cockle. They have to sell their catch to the boat operator who takes them to the
of durian devotees. One evening, Ong and I staked out a Sonneratia to see if we could catch a glimpse of a bat. The flowers open for only one night, so we had searched for a tree with buds that were beginning to burst. The flowers opened on cue, each a pompon of white stamens, but no bats showed up in our torch beams. Sonneratia trees attract another nocturnal visitor: fireflies. In certain mangrove forests in the region, the night is lit by a galaxy of fireflies that flash in synchrony. It is
here, I wouldn’t be complacent about sea-level rise. The current prediction of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is for an average rise of between 0.9 and 8.8 millimeters per year over the course of this century. If the IPCC’s median prediction of 4.8 millimeters per year turns out to be accurate, homeowners— and mangroves—are in trouble. People can move to higher ground, and, to an extent, mangroves can, too. Not individually, of course, but as a forest. But here in Florida, and
of meters, leaving a brown silt soup below the wrack line. It is fitting that my visit to Panama should end in a mangrove 148 Let Them Eat Shrimp forest that is both a cornucopia and a rubbish heap. Juan Díaz epitomizes the global mangrove problem: they are treasured by the few and trashed by the many. How is that situation to be turned around? Karl Kaufmann believes we need a new narrative about land use. We’re clinging to an illusion, he says, if we think of land as a collection of private,
mangrove trees (left), which they use to both plant new areas of coastline (below) and feed their sheep and goats. Ecuador is home to some of the tallest mangroves in the world. At El Majagual (bottom) Elaine Corets, of the Mangrove Action Project, is introduced to a giant bromeliad-studded Rhizophora mangrove. Despite massive mangrove loss in the past fifty years, reserves in the north of the country sustain traditional harvesting of mangrove cockles by conchera such as Aracely Caicedo