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A Study of Aquaculture Brownfields: Abandoned and Converted Shrimp Ponds in Thailand
GIS: Planning, Policy, and Global Data Analysis Research 1 (10GISR1)/Study/Thailand
Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand
University of Michigan
Steven R. Brechin
James S. Diana
1) Determine the current state of abandoned and converted shrimp ponds in the study area.
2) Assess attitudes, concerns, and interests of a number of stakeholders, such as farmers, government personnel, community and business leaders, etc., about abandoned ponds and possible alternative uses.
3) Assess the social and technical conditions necessary for diffusion and adoption potential alternative uses.
Abandoned shrimp ponds mar the landscape of Thailand as well as other countries. They are a rural equivalent to "brownfields," the abandoned and degraded industrial sites in urban centers. Both represent environmental degradation, lost economic opportunity, and underutilized land. This proposal attempts to explore the status of abandoned shrimp ponds and their social and technical potential for rehabilitation and reuse.
Shrimp culture has been variously considered as a panacea for aquaculture and economic development (New, 1997), or a major environmental catastrophe (Goldburg and Triplett, 1997). Shrimp culture has expanded dramatically since 1985, resulting in annual increases of 25% or more in yield worldwide (Diana, 1993; New, 1997). Some view this increase as problematic, citing increased pollution from effluents, conversion of lands to shrimp ponds (especially mangrove ecosystems), and disease introduction (Goldburg and Triplett, 1997). Others question the actual levels of conversion from mangrove to shrimp ponds and believe that mangroves were already being degraded long before shrimp farming became popular (Menasveta, 1997; Fast and Mensaveta, 2000). Clearly, public perception is that shrimp farming is environmentally destructive and that control needs to be exerted.
One major damage caused by shrimp farming is the use of ponds for a short time then abandonment because of disease, pollution of local waters, or economic failure. These abandoned ponds, often miles from the coast, cannot be easily reclaimed because the soils have become saline by input and evaporation of salt water in the culture system. The magnitude of the problem of abandoned shrimp farms in Thailand is unknown. It appears as though it could be a large problem getting larger. The estimates focus on particular areas, but no aggregate, regional estimates have been possible. Briggs and Funge Smith (1994, as referenced in Stevenson, 1997) estimate an area of 40,000 to 45,000 hectares south of Bangkok were abandoned when shrimp production fell in 1989. Another report, produced by NACA, estimates that 22% of farms in the Samut Sakhon province were abandoned at that time. And another, focusing on Prachaup Khiri Khan province estimates abandonment of 70-80% of the farms (Stevenson, 1997).
The problem of shrimp farm abandonment, leaving land unfertile in need of rehabilitation may worsen in coming years. It is widely believed that, as currently practiced, shrimp culture poses serious environmental and public health threats (Fegan, 1996; Stevenson, 1997; Flaherty et al., 1999). Flaherty et al. assert that small-scale shrimp farming is economically as well as environmentally unsustainable and suggest that the lands currently involved in production will be abandoned and left in a state unsuitable for other agricultural pursuits.
In some cases, culturing of brackishwater fish, using freshwater as the input and allowing salts to dissolve from the sediments, has occurred in such ponds. Previous CRSP work on reclaiming soils with acid sulfate conditions (Lin, 1986) and current CRSP work on fertilization of brackish water for tilapia production (Ninth Work Plan Thailand Research) provide basic concepts for reclamation of abandoned shrimp ponds in Thailand. Over time, we believe that such systems will not only produce a cash crop, but will also result in fertilization of the pond soils by fish waste and reduction in salinity by dissolution from fresh water, then discharge on harvest. Such processes may reclaim the area for other aquaculture or agriculture purposes. However, for this to be feasible, we need to use systems that will be successful in producing economic returns for culture in abandoned shrimp ponds.
In addition to environmental and economic concerns, the issue of shrimp culture has been controversial on social grounds. Rice cultivation has been the root of Thai culture for centuries (Flaherty et al., 1999) and it is threatened to be displaced by inland shrimp cultivation. Shrimp farms have moved into the interior of Thailand and, because of declining productivity, they require increasing amounts of land. This land is obtained by inundating rice paddies with salt water that is trucked in from the coast. There are conflicts between practitioners of both types of agriculture for water use, and because of salt infiltration from shrimp farms that have reduced rice yields. Rice farmers in inland areas are more vocal in their opposition to shrimp culture than coastal farmers that have suffered for decades.
This study would evaluate the current status of shrimp ponds in three study sites and to determine the level of abandonment, as well as social, legal, economic, and technical constraints to their reclamation. The majority of research into the environmental and socioeconomic costs of shrimp culture has been conducted primarily in response to mangrove deforestation. There is a need to address the unique concerns of aquaculturists in other areas including inland zones.
This study consists of two main components. The first is to determine current state of shrimp pond abandonment and potential reuse in our study areas. The second is to assess the social acceptance and technical feasibility of potential alternative uses of abandoned ponds as well as the conditions necessary for their adoption and diffusion by culturists. On assessing current status, the researchers would attempt to answer a number of questions including, how many shrimp ponds have been abandoned and why? Are owners considering other uses for their abandoned or poorly functioning ponds? If so, what might those potential uses be? Have they already found creative ways to rehabilitate ponds for other uses, such as for fish or other type of agricultural production? Or are they struggling to identify alternatives? Are the ponds still in ownership of the original shrimp farmers or are they public lands or land available for sale? The second component of the research would focus on the social acceptance and technical feasibility of identified alternatives and the potential for new and unexplored possibilities. Here research questions would include, what barriers keep users from fully implementing identified alternatives? Are there financial, technical, informational, policy, marketing, or other types of constraints? Are there other alternatives that have not been fully explored? If so, what are they? And why have they not been explored? How might these other innovations be developed technically and diffused among potential adopters? What adoption package would likely be the most successful given social, economic, cultural, and technical variables?
The problems with abandoned shrimp ponds are at least partly perceptional and partly reality. This study would quantify the extent of the problem and identify technical, social, legal, and economic constraints to its reversal. Sustainable aquaculture is highly debated, but at least it should involve continued reuse of pond systems. Therefore, this study will lead to better understanding of sustainable aquaculture in the region.
Abandoned shrimp ponds represent environmental degradation, loss economic opportunity, and underutilized land. The results from this study could also eventually lead to the development of ecologically and economically effective alternative systems for fish (or other agricultural production) in brackish water. It would help to better understand the local constraints to aquaculture sufficiently to adapt the production system to transportation, markets, alternative forms of employment, and to overcome social system constraints.
For the study's first component, researchers will develop a GIS database of existing abandoned shrimp ponds in three study locations representing sites near major cities and more rural areas. The sites for analysis include Samut Sakhon, a major shrimp zone along the central coast; Chacheng Sao, an area near Bangkok with urbanization and saltwater intrusion; and Kanachanaburi, an area with extensive pond development on reclaimed mangrove systems. We will use remote images to determine the number of ponds in about 30 km of coastline and within 10 km of the shore. We will then do ground truthing to determine the fraction of those ponds still in operation, as well as those converted to other uses or abandoned. For existing ponds (in use or abandoned), surveys will be done to determine basic characteristics of ownership (e.g., farmer, local or foreign corporation, local or national business association/ partnerships, community, other), number of ponds, pond size, socioeconomic characteristics of location and community, and technical information about conditions of the pond. These variables will all be attributes of the GIS database to allow evaluation of areas of active and abandoned ponds, selection of appropriate survey sites, and the geographic and political extent of the problem. The GIS analysis will involve both laboratories at AIT and the Spatial Analysis Lab at UM. Both have well developed GIS support systems.
For the study's second component, researchers will assess the social acceptance and technical feasibility of potential alternative uses of shrimp ponds. This information will be acquired through face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with shrimp pond owners, whether local farmers, business leaders, and so on. Similar type interviews will be conducted with related professionals, such as government agency personnel, the staff of environmental and developmental non-government organizations, and university faculty and researchers familiar with shrimp pond activities and aquaculture.
This research would provide useful information for other countries in the region that face similar problems with abandoned shrimp ponds. Use of GIS databases, and the potential for determining ecological factors affecting use and abandonment of shrimp ponds, may allow regional managers to have means of remotely assessing and managing their shrimp culture resources. Alternative uses to ponds should also be appropriate elsewhere. This research may provide impetus in this area by encouraging others to pursue similar studies and by actually identifying alternative uses for ponds.
GIS and field work: September 2001 to February 2003
Report submission: April 2003
Diana, J.S., 1993. Conservation and utilization of fish genetic resources in capture and culture fisheries. In: J.I. Cohen and C.S. Potter (Editors), Case Studies of Genetic Resource Conservation in Natural Habitats. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC, pp. 89103.
Fast, A.W. and P. Menaseta, 2000. Some recent issues and innovations in marine shrimp pond culture. Review in Fisheries Science 8(3):151233.
Fegan, D.F., 1996. Sustainable shrimp farming in Asia: Vision or pipedream? Aquaculture Asia, 1(2):2228.
Flaherty, M., P. Vandergeest, and P. Miller, 1999. Rice paddy or shrimp pond: Tough decisions in rural Thailand. World Development, 27(12):20452060.
Goldburg, R. and T. Triplett, 1997. Murky waters: environmental effects of aquaculture in the US. Environmental Defense Fund, New York, 198 pp.
Menasveta, P., 1997. Mangrove destruction and shrimp culture systems. World Aquaculture, 28(4):3642.
New, M.B., 1997. Aquaculture and capture fisheries. World Aquaculture, 28 (2):1130.
Stevenson, N.J., 1997. Disused shrimp ponds: Options for redevelopment of mangrove. Coastal Management, 25(4):423425.
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