From above, shrimp farms are a typical site along vast stretches of coastline across SE Asia – turning the landscape into a mosaic of natural mangrove forests blotted out by rectangular ponds. The destruction of mangrove landscapes not only appears as a blight on the coastline, but also takes away the various benefits that mangroves bring with them.
The industry (back then) proved extremely destructive for coastal forests around southern Thailand as most shrimp ponds would function only for a few years before being abandoned due to disease, only to clear even more mangroves for a quick profit.
Thung Yor is a small village located in Krabi Province, southern of Thailand. The area that surrounds the village was mostly turned into shrimp farms in the early 90s, along with oil palm and rubber plantations, but there are still small areas of forest which is connected to the Andaman Sea by tidal streams. More recently, patches of abandoned shrimp ponds have been returning back into mangroves, thriving and luscious as they once were thanks to the restoration work of Mangrove Action Project (MAP). After a couple of years of raising shrimp, the sites expired at Thung Yor, allowing for a restoration that included 3 abandoned ponds, 1.6ha total in size.
The restoration work began in 2017, along with local communities and stakeholders, and after just a few years, the area is now full of plants and trees, colonised by 12 mangrove species, and 3 associates, while many species of crustacean, mollusk and fish returned for the local people. The restoration required not a single hand to plant a propagule, but with the water flow corrected, natural regeneration could occur in the landscape and bring back its original state.
The species listed below all returned naturally along the tide during natural regeneration.
True Mangroves: 12 total
Acanthus ilicifolius, Acrostichum speciosum, Avicennia alba, Avicennia marina, Bruguiera cylindrica, Bruguiera gymnorhiza, Ceriops tagal, Excoecaria agallocha, Rhizophora apiculata, Sonneratia alba, Xylocarpus granatum, Xylocarpus moluccensis, Heritiera littoralis.
Mangrove Associates: 3 total
Derris trifoliata, Finlaysonia maritima, Pluhea indica.
Over the course of nearly two decades, MAP Project has undertaken 15 demonstration sites of abandoned shrimp ponds across the Andaman coast in Thailand, using a specific method to successfully re-establish a healthy mangrove where there was simply barren land. Rather than planting mangroves, they have developed ‘Community-based Ecological Mangrove Restoration’ (CBEMR) as true ecosystem restoration is not only about replacing the original area but regenerating the landscape to its original state.
Unlike many planting projects, CBEMR works with nature and takes into account mangrove ecology and biology to restore degraded mangroves by mimicking natural processes. Natural regeneration has the advantage of not only producing a more biodiverse mangrove, which increases its resilience to climate change, but also potentially more economical as it avoids the costs of nurseries and planting out. And best of all, it involves local communities and local stakeholders from the onset, ensuring that those living within the area will become guardians of their regenerating forests.