Eutrophication of coastal waters in the Gulf of California (Mexico) and the spatial development of shrimp farming: the case of the Rio Fuerte delta


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Eutrophication of coastal waters in the Gulf of California (Mexico)

image satellite, delta du Rio Fuerte, Mexique

Phytoplankton blooms (in shades of green) in the Gulf of California off the Sinaloa and Sonora coasts.

Partial reproduction of the true-colour image acquired by the Terra/MODIS sensor on 26-04-2001. Sources: J. Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.

graphique, irrigiation, eutrophisation, Mexique

Irrigation discrit 075

Quantities of fertiliser used per agricultural year in units of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in the irrigation district (Distrito de Riego) 075 Río Fuerte, and trophic index (TRIX) as an indicator of the environmental quality of the Northern Sinaloa coastal systems (Topolobampoand Navachistlagoon systems) during the 1987-2007 period.

The Gulf of California, off northwestern Mexico, is subject to severe pollution (land and air) due to the massive use of nitrogen fertilisers and insecticides on irrigated and intensive crops on the coastal plain (6,000 km2) in the states of Sonora and Sinaloa (Mexico). The plain, which extends between the Sierra Madre Occidental and the eastern shore of the gulf, is one of Mexico’s main agricultural areas (one-third of total production, of which almost 50% is exported). The consequences are major phytoplankton blooms up to the centre of the gulf (Beman et al., 2005) and eutrophication of the coastal lagoons on the coast (see the graph and image above). These consequences are compounded by the impacts of the rapid development of semi-intensive and intensive shrimp farming (camaronicultura) in ponds. The release of large amounts of organic matter (feed waste, excreta, urea used as fertiliser, etc.) and various antibiotics alters the ecological conditions of coastal ecosystems (Escobedo-Urías, 2010).

Mexican annual production of large shrimp (camarones), 1984-2012

graphique, crevetticulture, production, Sinaloa, Sonora, Mexique

The states of Sinaloa and Sonora are the largest producers of large shrimp (camarones) in Mexico (85% of production in 2001, see the graph), that are primarily exported to the United States. In 2008, Sinaloa counted 300 marine farms covering an area of 280 km2. The farmed species, Litopenaeus vannamei, whiteleg shrimp or Pacific white shrimp, can adjust to salinity levels from 9 to 55‰. Water temperature plays an essential role: the shrimp can only be harvested between May-June and October (sometimes longer if an exemption is authorised), because the temperature of the water during the rest of the year, often lower than 20°C, is too cold (a minimum of 29°C is required).


Shrimp farming is exposed to serious biological and health risks. The observed declines in production are due to infectious animal diseases (zoonoses) caused by different viruses (60%), bacteria and other pathogens. As a result, from 1995 to 1997, yields were affected by the Taura syndrome virus (TSV). Then, the state of Sonora (which became the leading producer in 2009 with an output of 81,422 tonnes), lost more than 50% of its production in the years that followed (35,305 tonnes in 2012) due to the white spot syndrome virus (WSSV). In 2013, another virus, from Asia, once again caused a decline in production, resulting in the loss of 80% to 100% of shrimp larvae.

Interactive Map

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Changes in the spatial coverage (with calculation of the surface areas) of shrimp farming in the Río Fuerte delta based on the analysis of a series of satellite images (scenes: 034-042 from Landsat 5 TM, 1990; 564-298/2 from Spot 3, 1994, Spot 4, 1998 and 2002, Spot 5, 2005 and 2008 – ISIS file from the CNES no. 144). Processing and production: Loïc Ménanteau and Laurent Pourinet

The first Mexican shrimp farm (Ejido las Grullas, by Acuacultores de Sinaloa) was built in 1983-1984 in the Río Fuerte delta, to the north of Sinaloa. As part of an international collaborative research project, we carried out a study of the development of shrimp farming in the delta. A sequence of satellite images (Landsat and Spot) were processed and analysed to accurately monitor its spatial coverage over the first 25 years of shrimp farming activity (1983-2008). North of Boca las Piedras (see interactive map), the rapid extension of these farms has resulted in the creation of a kind of barrier that is more or less continuous, with changes to or loss of the natural drainage. To the south, they are expanding more slowly, but pose higher risks for the environment as the farming is done directly on the edge of fragile ecosystems consisting of mangroves and lagoons.

BEMAN J. M., K. R. ARRIGO & MATSON P. A., 2005. Agricultural runoff fuels large phyto-plankton blooms in vulnerable areas of the ocean, Nature vol. 434, p. 211-214.

ESCOBEDO-URÍAS D., 2010. Diagnóstico y descripción del proceso de eutrozación en lagunas costeras del norte de Sinaloa. IPN-CICIMAR, La Paz, B.C.S., México, thèse de doctorat, 163 p.

Loïc MÉNANTEAU, géographe, Chercheur-associé à LETG-Nantes UMR 6554


Loïc MENANTEAU, Diana C. ESCOBEDO URIAS, « Eutrophisation des eaux côtières dans le golfe de Californie (Mexique) et développement spatial de la crevetticulture : cas du delta du Río Fuerte », L’atlas Bleu, Revue cartographique des mers et des littoraux. Mis en ligne le 11 janvier 2020,

(version digitale adaptée d’après l’article paru dans L’Atlas Permanent de la Mer et du Littoral n°7 « Risques littoraux et maritimes ». Ed. LETG-Nantes, 2015. pp.56-57)


DOI : 10.35109/atlasbleu-eng.10008