Solar Salt Pans
|They look like small mountains of snow.|
Salt was valuable to the Dutch as a means of preserving herring, an important livelihood. With salt, the herring could be preserved indefinitely; without, the fish would rot in just a few days.
The Dutch had obtained their salt from Spain until the Eighty Years' War between the Netherlands and Spain . These hostilities made them look elsewhere for salt. Venezuela and the Caribbean turned out to be the best sources.
Salt is always present in a dissolved form in sea water. The flat southern end of Bonaire was ideal for creating large flat pans in which the sea water would evaporate, leaving behind salt in its crystalline form. The salt was then scooped up and sent to the Netherlands.
This was labor-intensive work, however, requiring the importation of slaves. Salt pan work was considered some of the toughest possible not only because of the work involved, but the constant bright glare from the crystals was hard on the eyes. After emancipation in 1863, solar salt production was no longer profitable and the pans were abandoned until this century.
Using the latest in modern equipment, the Antilles International Salt Company resumed work in 1966 and it has continued ever since. Most of the salt is exported to the United States for industrial use, including water softening and sprinkling on snow-covered roads.
Approaching the solar salt works, the first thing you'll see are the crystallizers where the sea water is evaporating. During the process, which takes about a year, the water turns some shocking pink and purple colors.
People who photograph the pans in this condition are often later amazed at how much film they have shot.
The salt crystals are scooped up by trucks, then slurried with brine and cascaded over grates to remove the impurities. It goes aboard ship by conveyer belt, at a rate of 2,000 tons into the cargo holds.