Transforming the environment, transforming lives: The impacts of shrimp aquaculture on a coastal community in northern Ecuador

Authors: Melva Treviño-Peña*, University of Rhode Island
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Development, Women
Keywords: aquaculture, development, Ecuador, mangroves, political ecology, women
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Taylor, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Development agendas for the Global South typically promote the growth of productive sectors through the integration of peripheral lands into national and international markets. In coastal Ecuador, this transpired through the introduction of industrial shrimp aquaculture. The expansion of this sector entailed large-scale environmental transformations – particularly of mangrove forests – and ensued complex social effects. Mangrove forests have historically served as a life-support system to numerous coastal communities in Ecuador, and as spaces where people have fostered social and cultural identities for generations. Informed by the framework of political ecology, this paper expands on the processes surrounding the introduction of shrimp aquaculture to the mangrove zones of southern Esmeraldas province. Ethnographic and geolocational data were collected to identify how traditional mangrove users perceive and utilize mangrove forests, and how the aquaculture industry affects their spatiality. The findings of this research show that the establishment of shrimp ponds drastically decreased spaces used carry out traditional livelihood practices, resulting in local financial instability and food insecurity. Moreover, the gender of a person largely informs how they perceive and are affected by these developments. The environmental transformations ensued by the shrimp farming industry have resulted in a decrease of jobs for men. Women are directly affected because employment opportunities for them have historically been scarce, making women more dependent on mangrove resources. To overcome the impacts of the shrimp farming sector, mangrove users had to reconceptualize how they perceive and utilize mangrove forests and the livelihood practices traditionally tied to those spaces.

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