Fish ponds have scarred coastal environments in Asia, but offshore fish farms might save wetlands and improve yields
Along the shore of northern Java, the most densely populated island in Indonesia, they thought they had it made back in the 1980s, when the craze for turning mangrove swamps into prawn ponds took hold. Prawn prices were high. Village after village took the bait. “We wanted to raise some income and feed our families”, says Maskur, a teacher in Wedung, a large village on the River Wulan.
But now they are living with the consequences. The loss of their protective coastal strip of mangroves triggered an invasion by the sea that has engulfed many of their ponds in the past two decades, and eaten into the rice fields further inland.
“We’ve lost 500 metres to the sea in the last 10 years,” said Maskur, as our boat headed out into a bay unmarked on any maps. We passed the submerged remains of banks that had once surrounded village ponds. “I bought 10 hectares of ponds here in 2004, but three years later they were swept away,” said village official Nor Khamed.