Eco-friendly shrimp farming

Posted on March 29, 2010. Filed under: Environment and Livelihoods |

-The Star- The Integrated Shrimp Aquaculture Park that is being built in Terengganu is driven by a vision to place Malaysian seafood on the world map.

THESE are the prawns of progress. The shrimps of the future. The crustaceans of development. And here in this tiny village of Penarik, in the Setiu district of Terengganu, is where it will all happen.

If everything goes according to plan, the RM200mil Integrated Shrimp Aquaculture Park (i-SHARP) that is being built here will revolutionise not just the economy of this sleepy coastline district, but possibly the entire seafood industry in Malaysia as well.

Designed and constructed by aquaculture specialists Blue Archipelago Bhd (BAB), i-SHARP (which is set to start operations next year) encompasses a whopping 1,000ha, and will have about 600 ponds producing an estimated capacity of 10,000 tonnes of white-leg shrimps a year. Now that’s a lot of shrimp.

In demand: The black tiger prawn (pic) and the white-leg shrimp that i-SHARP will be producing are amongst the most widely-cultured prawn species in the world.

The main drawing point of i-SHARP is not its production capacity, but the fact that it aims to be the first sustainable shrimp aquaculture farm in Malaysia.

“i-SHARP is not just about shrimps. It’s about food, seafood in particular, about people, ecology and most of all sustainability,” said BAB chief executive officer Dr Shahridan Faiez. “We are trying to achieve a balance between economic growth, social well-being, and the ecosystem that supports all of us.”

According to Dr Shahridan, the shrimp aquaculture industry has evolved a great deal since the days when it was the main perpetrator of mangrove destruction and other environmentally-damaging practices. It has now reinvented itself by imposing the strictest requirements possible when it comes to sustainability.

“The market now demands high safety and environmental standards. Producers who are unable to meet such standards will find themselves squeezed out of the market,” he said. “As such, it would be foolhardy for us to do anything not sustainable because it would only hurt our reputation and our business.”

In a shrimp shell, what the market is looking for are responsible producers who take environmental matters into consideration right from the planning stage to implementation. This is where i-SHARP comes in.

Look SHARP

The idea is to make i-SHARP a one-stop facility for shrimp farmers; they lease the ponds within the site and just concentrate on growing shrimp.

“What i-SHARP provides is a place where all the necessary certification is provided, the infrastructure is in place, and all the regulations are met, so that farmers don’t have to worry about spending money on all that,” said Dr Shahridan.

Good stuff: A shrimp farmer holding up cultured prawns. Blue Archipelago Berhad hopes to position Malaysia as the country of origin for safe and high quality seafood.

Much thought has been given to making i-SHARP a sustainable venture, not just economically, but more importantly from an environmental and social aspect as well.

Travelling by boat on Sungai Caluk, you would not have guessed that a 1,000ha shrimp farm was being built behind the thick mangroves that line the river.

“The minimum regulation for a buffer zone is 50m from the river. Our minimum is 70m, and at some points, the buffer zone stretches up to 180m,” said Sharizal Shaarani, BAB strategic communications manager, our guide for the day.

Just 5.5km outside the borders of i-SHARP, Sharizal points out a stark reminder of how damaging development can be if done indiscriminately – a vast swath of barren, cleared forest can be seen from the river.

“No one knows what was being done here,” said Sharizal, who added that it was a reminder of what BAB did not want to do when constructing i-SHARP.

“One of the factors in building the farm is that it must not be built on pristine forest land. Historically, the site in Setiu has been disturbed for logging and charcoal mining, and farms,” he said.

During construction of the farm, measures were taken to minimise impact on the environment and wildlife. The directional felling method was used during land clearing (to facilitate movement of wildlife into adjacent forests and prevent them from getting pocketed into fragmented forests or driven into adjacent villages). Silt traps were constructed to prevent silt from the construction site from flowing into the river.

A resident of Setiu and a conservationist at heart, Umar Salleh is the BAB senior aquaculture specialist and consultant in charge of making sure i-SHARP stays focused on its goals. As a former lecturer in Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Terengganu branch (now known as Universiti Malaysia Terengganu), he started the turtle conservation programme in UPM in Setiu in the 1980s, and used to do freelance conservation and consultation work for the Terengganu government before joining BAB.

“One day, we saw a tree in the middle of our site that had a bird’s nest in it, and I insisted that the contractors not bring it down until the nest was empty,” he said, beaming proudly.

Umar is also painfully aware of the poverty of the people in Setiu, the second poorest district in Peninsular Malaysia.

“i-SHARP will help to galvanise the economy, create jobs for the people here and lift the standard of living,” he said. “The locals are already working on the construction of i-SHARP. Even if they’re not working on the farm itself, there is already a positive impact on secondary industries in the area.”

Sustainable shrimp

To ensure that they cover all bases, BAB conducted a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) study before building i-SHARP. This was subsequently submitted and approved on Sept 3 last year by the Department of Environment (DOE), thus making them the first and only aquaculture farm to have conducted and submitted a DEIA successfully.

The extensive consultation process involved 12 government state agencies, four federal agencies, 727 households in seven villages and several reputable international NGOs, including Wetlands International.

This cleared tract of gelam forest in Setiu, Terengganu, where villagers used to go to collect wild honey, was wrongly identified in our article on Jan 26 as part of the 1,000ha i-SHARP project. Blue Archipelago Berhad, the project operator, has clarified that this piece of land is outside its project site. We apologise for the error.

Through the DEIA, BAB was able to plan mitigation measures to conserve the surrounding wildlife and environment, some of which influenced the design of i-SHARP, at the cost of extra profits.

For instance, the shrimp ponds occupy only 38% of the 1,000ha. The rest of the land is used to ensure that the farm is run in an ecologically sound manner.

“In the old aquaculture model, you can be sure the production area would be 80%-85%, because the aim was to maximise production,” said Sharizal. “What we want to do is find the optimal production size so that we can produce and fetch a decent return, and at the same time not undermine the very ecosystem our production process is based on.”

The DEIA process also identified the riparian vegetation along Sungai Caluk as a High Conservation Value Habitat; as a result, BAB allocated an additional buffer zone of 200ha within i-SHARP to ensure the natural vegetation remains intact.

The company is working with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu to form an NGO called Friends of Sungai Caluk, and set aside a 2ha site dedicated to the conservation of the area’s wildlife (which include the endangered river terrapins) and the riparian vegetation along the river.

“We want to show that sustainable shrimp aquaculture is possible. And that is why we invested in a bigger buffer zone, and allocated the 2ha of land for conservation purposes,” said Sharizal. “We have also taken pro-active measures with regard to the conservation of river terrapins.

“Another example of BAB willing to go the extra mile is the building of a submarine pipeline 1.2km out into the sea for their marine water intake. This ensures that the water intake will not have a significant impact on the terrapin nesting site at Pasir Tebing Penarik, and also to maintain the picturesque vista of the world class beach in Penarik.”

BAB has also been working closely with DOE to monitor the water quality of the river for a period of 12 months, so that accurate data can be used to remodel the impact of the water discharge.

To alleviate fears that the discharge will pollute the river, BAB will build what will be the largest sedimentation pond for a shrimp farm in the country, and practise minimal water exchange as well.

“The sedimentation process is so extensive that it will take almost four days before the water is discharged into the river. This will enhance the quality of our water discharge while reducing the volume of water discharged into the river,” said Sharizal.

“A 40ha pond translates to 80 potential shrimp ponds, which means we’re losing at least RM150,000 in revenue per pond. We want to make sure that this farm will be the first environmentally and financially sustainable farm in Malaysia.

Food of the future

If all goes according to plan, i-SHARP may yet usher in a new dawn for Malaysian seafood. Dr Shahridan’s vision is that in the future, every shrimp that comes from Malaysia will be produced by i-SHARP.

“We want a whole new paradigm for aquaculture. The old way of aquaculture was done in small farms that had the classic problems of lack of scale and inability to perform consistently,” he said.

“We want these smallholders to come and produce in the secure environment of i-SHARP, which has all the necessary certification, security, bio-safety and infrastructure. They will have access to technical expertise, and can sell their products to processors who target premium markets.”

Through the i-SHARPs, BAB plans to raise the production of aquaculture companies, and raise the standard of aquaculture products in the country.

“We want to position Malaysia as a country of origin for safe seafood,” said Dr Shahridan. “Think about meat, for example. We tend to choose Australian beef or New Zealand lamb over those from other countries. We want the same thing for Malaysian seafood – so when people want safe, high quality and sustainable seafood, they will automatically go for Malaysian seafood.”

Advertisements

Make a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: