At Senegal’s Lake Retba, also known as Lac Rose or “Pink Lake,” harvesters wade into one of the world’s saltiest lakes — even saltier than the Dead Sea — to collect 60,000 metric tons of salt per year.
Salt is much more abundant in this lake versus the seas, according to Lake Retba expert Ndongo Guéye. With sea salt, a field of seawater has to be created and then evaporated, leaving behind only a minimal amount of salt. In the lake, however, the density of salt allows it to crystalize on the surface of the water. This means that salt can be continuously harvested from the lake as it regenerates. Once a specific area is harvested, it will be ready to harvest again in only 45 days.
Seydou Touré, a Lake Retba salt harvester, takes us through the gathering process. He rubs himself down with shea butter — an absolute must to protect his skin against the damaging effects of the salty lake water, which is also known for retaining heat. In September, the water can reach up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Touré uses a flat-bottomed canoe to head out into the middle of the lake. He straps small stepping-stool like contraptions to his sandals to allow him to stand on the salt, and begins to dig. Once the salt is loosened, he scoops it into a basket and then dumps it into his boat.
Back on shore, the salt is carried from the boat to giant salt mounds. It can take up to 200 trips a day from the boat to the mound for some of the carriers. The salt needs two months to completely dry, and once it has, it’s sprayed down with an iodine and water mixture because, according to Guéye, 65% of the world suffers from iodine deficiency. “Everyone consumes salt daily, even the poorest people, so to help those people, we put iodine in the salt,” he explains. After the salt is crushed, iodized, and put into satchels, it’s ready for exportation.
“It’s really a beautiful place to visit,” says Touré. “We encourage our brothers and sisters from Senegal to come discover it, and to see all the pain the workers endure to harvest the salt.”