I remember riding on the train heading south, and I kept reading stories about people being displaced, some even being murdered by a shrimp farm mafia. It was back in early 1992, when I visited village after village along the coast of Thailand, all of which were devastated by encroaching shrimp farms. The mangrove forests, which the residents depended on for survival, had been illegally demolished to make way for vast ponds of chemicals and shrimp.
I vividly recalls a conversation with a young fisherman from a small village where two men who had protested the illegal clearing of mangroves had been murdered. Sitting with his son, the fisherman talked about how he had to keep taking his boat farther offshore in hopes of finding fish, as a result of the mangrove destruction. Those who protested might be killed by this shrimp mafia. Villagers did not allow me to take their pictures for fear of this mafia.
I left that Thai village with a new mission. Joining forces with two others, we began building a network of activists and fisherfolk in Thailand forming a networking chain that now stretches around the world. So began the Mangrove Action Project in March of 1992..
Now I and the staff of Mangrove Action Project work with fishing communities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, helping them develop new ways to restore the mangrove forests. Local people are involved in the projects, so the communities become stronger from within. I also help communities around the world share ideas and techniques with each other.
But working as a global ecologist is not an easy road to follow. Although not lacking in energy, Mangrove Action Project has only 5 full-time employees, some part time staff, and dedicated volunteers with offices in 3 different countries. I hopes to build a larger team, so they can continue to do the vital work needed to support communities that have been devastated by shrimp farming and mangrove loss.