Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Jumbo-sized carbon footprint of farmed shrimp tracked by scientist

[Editor's note: Jude Isabella will file Hook items as she attends the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting being held in Vancouver.]

Wonder no more what is the carbon footprint of a shrimp cocktail -- for every 551 grams of aquaculture shrimp produced, a ton of carbon is released into the atmosphere.

Boone Kauffman, an Oregon State University researcher, presented his analysis of the shrimp aquaculture industry for a symposium on Blue Carbon, Green Opportunities at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Vancouver today. Blue carbon is the carbon stored in mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal salt marshes and it's about to be unleashed as a tool to save coastal ecosystems around the world.

Kauffman focused on what happens when mangroves are cleared to make way for shrimp farms in Southeast Asia. Farming shrimp is one of the fastest growing forms of aquaculture in the world, increasing ninefold during the 1990s. Today, it accounts for a third of the shrimp produced globally.

What is the jumbo carbon footprint of a shrimp? If you and four friends go for dinner and drinks and each have a farmed-shrimp cocktail, that releases 990 kilograms of carbon into the atmosphere. That equals burning 424 litres of gasoline. And apparently, compared with the shrimp eaters, you can drive from Vancouver to New York City in a Prius and claim the moral high ground when it comes to calculating your carbon footprint.

Coastal ecosystems are widespread globally, though rapidly being lost. About two per cent of seagrass habitat is lost annually. In the last couple of decades that loss has been calculated as a total loss of 29 per cent. Total loss of salt marshes has been about 50 per cent of salt marshes, and 35 per cent of mangroves. Not only do these ecosystems provide habitat for 75 per cent of marine fish (at least in the tropics), but they are valuable as carbon sinks.

Following speakers talked about the use of Blue Carbon sinks as a tool to save the estuaries, bays, salt flats, and other areas that teem with locally adapted life above ground and contain a global problem below ground. While the public and policy makers might know places like the Fraser River estuary are valuable for biodiversity, water quality, flood control, and fisheries, when fretting about carbon containment, forests have gotten all the attention.

Yet coastal habitats like mangroves release more carbon when destroyed than a tropical rainforest converted to cattle pasture -- the release is estimated at about two times greater. The reason lies below ground. Over 80 per cent of a mangrove's entire ecosystem carbon stock could be stored below ground. And seagrass and salt marsh carbon sinks are thought to extend six metres below ground, Kauffman says.

By leveraging a forest's contributions to capturing carbon and reducing emissions, policymakers have improved management and conservation, and have increased the importance of forests globally. The result has been a growth of financial incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation.

Organizations like Restoring America's Estuaries, Conservation International and others are rallying behind the The Blue Carbon Initiative to try and do the same for coastal carbon sinks. Blue carbon promises to be the buried treasure for communities trying to restore and save coastal ecosystem.

Jude Isabella writes about marine biology and sustainability for The Tyee and others.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus