Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea by Kennedy Warne

For anyone wondering just what the heck “rainforests of the sea” might be, they’re the world’s largely unsung, highly imperiled, biologically fabulous coastal forests of mangroves. And it’s a telling point that the word mangroves does not appear on the cover of a book devoted to their marvels and troubles.


Rainforests of the land evoke a lot more international concern, and Warne includes in the last chapter of his vivid and pithy book a vignette of a scientist glooming about the undeservedly low public profile of mangroves. Warne’s book sets out to remedy this, but it’s far from mere lecturing. Warne, founding editor of New Zealand Geographic, visits mangroves around the world and lets what he sees and the people he meets make their own case. The book is a travelog with attitude.

Warne explores mangroves and their creatures from tigers to (possibly) fishing monkeys. His travels take him to places where the rising demand for coastal areas for aquaculture, particularly shrimp farming, has wiped out mangroves. One farmer tells Warne how aquaculture income let him educate his children, but the cost of such ventures hangs heavy in drinking-water wells now ruined with saltwater and land too salt-tainted to grow food. Warne finds hope too, in restoration projects and a complex but encouraging example of Tanzanian villagers struggling to balance competing local opinions in managing mangroves.

Even armchair travelers play a role in mangroves’ fate, Warne says. Ninety percent of shrimp for sale in the United States is imported, and two-thirds of it comes from farms. A good start, he says, would be asking where your next shrimp comes from.

Island Press, 2011, 166 p., $25.95.

From the Nature Index

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