Mangroves of the semiarid Caatinga region of northeastern Brazil are being rapidly converted to shrimp pond aquaculture. To determine ecosystem carbon stocks and potential greenhouse gas emissions from this widespread land use, we measured carbon stocks of eight mangrove forests and three shrimp ponds in the Acaraú and Jaguaribe watersheds in Ceará state, Brazil. The shrimp ponds were paired with adjacent intact mangroves to ascertain carbon losses and potential emissions from land conversion. The mean total ecosystem carbon stock of mangroves in this semiarid tropical landscape was 413 ± 94 Mg C/ha. There were highly significant differences in the ecosystem carbon stocks between the two sampled estuaries suggesting caution when extrapolating carbon stock across different estuaries even in the same landscape. Conversion of mangroves to shrimp ponds resulted in losses of 58%–82% of the ecosystem carbon stocks. The mean potential emissions arising from mangrove conversion to shrimp ponds was 1,390 Mg CO2e/ha. Carbon losses were largely from soils which accounted for 81% of the total emission. Losses from soils >100 cm in depth accounted for 33% of the total ecosystem carbon loss. Soil carbon losses from shrimp pond conversion are equivalent to about 182 years of soil carbon accumulation. Losses from mangrove conversion are about 10‐fold greater than emissions from conversion of upland tropical dry forest in the Brazilian Caatinga underscoring the potential value for their inclusion in climate change mitigation activities.