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Shrimp Farmers in India Turn to Mangroves for Sustainable Aquaculture

For generations, shrimp aquaculture has been the primary livelihood for families in the Sundarbans, a vast mangrove forest in India. However, the widespread use of unsustainable practices, driven by the demand for shrimp in Western markets, has had a devastating impact on the Sundarbans ecosystem. In recent years, efforts have been underway to transition to more sustainable aquaculture methods, and one promising approach is the integration of mangroves into shrimp farms.

Dr. Sourabh Kumar Dubey, a researcher from West Bengal, has been investigating the potential of integrated mangrove aquaculture (IMA) to reduce the environmental impact of shrimp farming while maintaining productivity. IMA involves cultivating mangroves alongside shrimp ponds, leveraging the natural benefits of mangroves to enhance water quality, reduce disease outbreaks, and provide habitat for a variety of organisms.

In the village of Haroa, located on the outskirts of the Sundarbans, farmers have begun adopting IMA practices with encouraging results. The ponds with mangroves are yielding comparable shrimp production to those without mangroves, while also offering significant environmental benefits. The mangroves act as biofilters, removing excess nutrients from the water and improving overall water quality. Additionally, they provide shelter for shrimp larvae, reducing the need for artificial stocking.

Despite the promise of IMA, challenges remain in its wider adoption. One major concern is the lower initial shrimp yield compared to intensive aquaculture systems, which may deter farmers seeking quick returns. However, proponents of IMA emphasize the long-term benefits, such as reduced capital investment, increased livelihood diversity through polyculture, and enhanced climate resilience.

Protecting the newly planted mangroves is another challenge. Livestock grazing and human interference pose a threat to the saplings, and raising awareness among local communities is crucial for their survival. Temporary fencing has been implemented in Haroa, but more sustainable solutions are needed.

Dubey believes that IMA has the potential to be scaled up across the coastal regions of West Bengal, particularly in areas with underutilized brackish water ponds. By converting these ponds into mangrove-integrated shrimp farms, farmers can generate income while simultaneously restoring and preserving the vital Sundarbans ecosystem.

As the world grapples with the environmental consequences of unsustainable aquaculture practices, IMA offers a promising path towards a more harmonious relationship between shrimp farming and the natural environment. By harnessing the benefits of mangroves, shrimp farmers in India can continue to provide a valuable food source while safeguarding the delicate balance of the Sundarbans ecosystem.

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