Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Shrimp Farming 101 at Aqua Mar

It was not even 8am and we were off to Aqua Mar, the largest shrimp farm in Belize, for the second day of our project. Owned by Michael Duncker and managed by Linda Thornton, Aqua Mar is a massive, multimillion dollar establishment covering around 1,000 acres. It is comprised of 90 ponds and raises shrimp from eggs to half-foot giants.  There are over 100 employees, including more than a dozen specialists in research and technology. Each night, 4 staff members sleep overnight to manage risks ranging from power outages to raids by seafood thieves.
Upon arrival, we interviewed Mr. Duncker about the history of the Aqua Mar farm and Linda’s role in the company. He told us that Linda was the one he needed to manage his farm for her experience and knowledge. According to him, 90 percent of Aqua Mar’s shrimp are exported, but only rarely to the U.S.
After wrapping up the interview, we drove to see the farm’s hatcheries. We saw shrimp at all different life stages in the hatcheries, tanks and ponds. The full-grown shrimp, which are used for breeding, were much larger than we had ever seen. The smallest were so tiny that staff members viewed them under microscopes. During our tour of the facilities, Linda and her staff explained each stage of shrimp production.

The first building contained the largest shrimp –which are given a special diet and are living egg factories. According to Linda, typical female shrimp reproduce once a year. At Aqua Mar however, they reproduce once a week and each female produces around 200,000 babies. We learned that while only one percent of those fry survive in the wild, 25-50 percent survive at Aqua Mar.  A staff member, Bartolo Cal, held a flapping and uncooperative shrimp above the water to describe its features and an undergraduate on the filmmaking team, was daring enough to lower a waterproof camera into the tank to get underwater footage of the swimming shrimp.

Our crew then toured the outdoor tanks where shrimp in the later developmental stages are farmed. Luis Carlos Vergara, Aqua Mar’s Hatchery Manager, held up a glass container holding month-old shrimp that were nearly transparent.  Linda said it was helpful to be able to see the shrimp’s digestive tract in monitoring their health.
Just before we returned to Independence Village we witnessed the feeding of shrimp at a few ponds equipped with large aerators. We got some great footage after setting up the tripod in the back of Linda’s parked pickup truck. Also, some of us went up the rooftop of a tower at Aqua Mar to get some aerial footage.

Just before sunset we called it a day and enjoyed a nice dinner in Independence. Walking home from dinner, a few students came across a local store that happened to be selling shrimp. The owner, who immigrated to Belize from China 20 years ago, buys some varieties of shrimp from Aquamar. In fact, she told us that most Chinese restaurants in the area buy shrimp from Aqua Mar.
Soon we’ll be posting video clips giving the full sweep of action around the vast facility.


  1. Hi got_shrimp. My name is Amber Williams. I'm a grad student at NYU now, but graduated from Boston College where I was doing lab research with shrimp from Ecuador. I was examining the effect of heavy metals (cadmium) on gene expression in the tail muscle (endocrine disruption). Others in my lab were doing work on white spot syndrome in the Ecuadorian shrimp as well as those found in our local grocery stores, and others were examining biodiversity in mangroves. A few of them went down to Ecuador this past summer to collect more samples and I know they did some filming as well. My PI is an amazing source for shrimp aquaculture info. I'm obviously excited to see that you're doing this documentary, and I'm telling you all this because, well, information on the shrimp we're eating needs to get out there and if you are looking for more sources, I'd be happy to connect you. Email me at williaqj@gmail.com. All the best, Amber