[vc_row][vc_column][postgallery_image data_source=”data-9″ images_attach=”226,208,223,224″ null=”” load_ajax=”auto_load” content_type=”image”][vc_empty_space][vc_empty_space][vc_tta_tabs][vc_tta_section title=”Tradition” tab_id=”1580525461627-87f94e3a-9d5d”][vc_column_text css_animation=”fadeIn”]In Portugal, the traditional salt production has been one of the main economic activities of the country and Castro Marim (East Algarve) is still nowadays the most representative area, supporting the largest community of traditional salt artisans in Portugal.
The salt pans represent 28% of the 2,000 hectares, mostly wetlands and salt marshes, that integrate the Natural Reserve of Castro Marim. The geometric ponds for salt evaporation were introduced in Castro Marim by the Romans and this activity was closely associated with the industry of fish conservation that was well established in the Algarve.
Revaluing the identity of salt pans and its associated activity, restoring and promoting the biological, economic and cultural potentials of the coastal wetlands. Specific objectives include the recognition of the importance of the salt pans for nature conservation, the restoration of the salt pans, organisation and structuring of the profession, bringing back value to the traditional salt produced in the coast.
Valuing the traditional method and the artisans
Several actions of awareness and mobilisation among regional stakeholders in the areas are being undertaken, including workshops and promotional European fairs about traditional salt and the promotion and support of associative structures for the producers.
At the European level, the European Federation of Traditional Salt is being set up. These associative structures can lead to changes in the legal status of traditional salt at the National and European levels, allowing specific supporting mechanisms of the activity or a certification status of the product.
The most successful action was the change in the European and Portuguese legislation regarding traditional salt as a product that, though it is subject to strict quality control, its existence and market are now legal. This achievement was due to an intensive pressure from different European countries through their national federations and governments.
Encourage the certification of traditional salt to combat competition with industrial product. The salt and fleur du sal produced in Castro Marim are periodically controlled by the french institute Nature et Progrès and Sativa.
The establishment of TradiSal – an association encompassing the traditional salt producers from Eastern Algarve which was officially established in 1999. TradiSal, with a business structure and financial means, supports their associated producers in finding ways in the national and international markets and organises a collective marketing of salt and fleur du sal. It has also been working on the certification and promotion of traditional salt, and leading actions aimed at guaranteeing the pureness of the product.
The participation of Castro Marim in European initiatives allowed the cooperation and exchange of experiences with other traditional salt producing sites providing mutual support and steering of the actions. Though partnerships of producers have a clear added value, this is limited by the fact that the different producers are direct competitors.
Promotion of Biodiversity
The Project SAL, included funding for restoration of abandoned salt pans in many of the sites involved, including Castro Marim. Furthermore it helped set up an integrated and sustainable management, compatible with the protection status associated with the areas (e.g. Natura 2000,Wetlands of International Importance – Ramsar convention), which included the definition of a methodology applied to key species (mainly birds), the selection of indicator species and its monitoring, and a programme of active management of the salt pans and the water levels.
Cultural heritage and diversification of activities
Other initiatives of the Project SAL was the establishment of a route of Traditional Salt from the Atlantic, the promotion of tourism in the areas through the establishment of a common identity and the support in the establishment of museums and interpretation centres about the traditional production of salt. The study of new uses and products obtained from the salt pans in Castro Marim (such as special algae, other halophytic plants and clay), that are compatible with the traditional production of salt and the objectives of nature conservation has been promoted through projects and partnerships with research entities. Courses were set up, involving approximately 15 students, aimed at identifying, collecting, and transforming these products but also analysing potential markets for their commercialization.
Source: EU OURCOAST-Project[/vc_column_text][/vc_tta_section][vc_tta_section title=”Ecosystem” tab_id=”1580525461597-41428f76-90cf”][vc_column_text css_animation=”fadeIn”]
The Wetlands of Castro Marim
An Ecological Reserve Between Land and Sea
The salt marshes Baesuris are right in the heart of the Marshland Nature Reserve of Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António, next to the mouth of the Guadiana river. It is a Specially Protected Area (Birds Directive) and Wetland Area protected by the Ramsar Convention (1971).
The waters here are among the cleanest in the world and yield salts rich in minerals and tasting of the sea. The landscape is dominated by salt evaporation ponds and marshes, a natural habitat for a great number of animals.
This ecological reserve, provides shelter, breeding and feeding conditions for many species of molluscs, fish, reptiles, amphibians and crustaceans. A macroinvertebrate called Artemia salina, occurs naturally in the salt evaporation pond, being the base of the food chain of several fowl birds.
The great wealth of plant life, with over 400 types of plants, makes this area a true botanic paradise. The vegetation of the walls of the salt evaporation ponds provides conditions for the nesting, protection, and feeding of several waterfowl and stabilizes the salt ponds. The maintenance of the vegetation and the protection of the fowl nesting locations increase the environmental richness of the salt evaporation pond ecosystem preserving this ecossystem. At higher levels, the area extends right up to the Algarvian range of mountains, sheltering vineyards and almonds trees. But the salt evaporation ponds are mainly composed of Sarcocornia (Sarcocornia sp.), Limoniastrum (Limoniastrum monopetalum), and the Salicornia (Salicornia sp.) which is edible and has soft and succulent extremities with a delicious salty taste that is very much appreciated in countries like France and Italy.
The Sapal de Castro Marim shelters some 153 different species throughout the year. Species such as the Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber, Dunlin Calidris alpina, Little Stint Calidris minuta and Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus can be observed in the salt evaporation ponds. This site is the breeding ground for a large number of Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta and Little Tern Sterna albifrons. Lastly, it also has a significant population of Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata and the only Portuguese population of Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens.[/vc_column_text][/vc_tta_section][/vc_tta_tabs][/vc_column][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
How is it made
[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]Preparing the ponds and harvesting the salt is hard work. Long days in the hot sun and heavy loads are the norm. Yet there is a definite sense of passion for the work and it is not uncommon to see men in their early 80’s out preparing the ponds, checking on the progress of the waters and harvesting the fruit of their labors.
The process of making salt is an art and a science. The usage of the waters must be planned in advance so that new waters are ready for the crystallizing ponds when the old water is spent. Advancing the water through the successive ponds requires measuring the salinity of the water. The degree of salinity of the brine will determine when the various elements in the brine will start to precipitate. This is important information when one wants to maximize the amounts of important elements such as calcium, magnesium and potassium in the final product.
After the end of the previous harvest season, the ponds are allowed to flood in order to protect the earthen barriers from erosion from rain and wind. In the springtime, normally in March, water is allowed to drain out and the ponds are cleaned and prepared for the harvesting season. Any structural damage or erosion to the pond barriers will be repaired at this time. Accumulations of plant matter and any other detritus are removed.
The process of forming salt out of seawater is effected through the cumulative effect of evaporation due to sun and wind. Thus, fresh seawater needs to be allowed in and consequently evaporated. Water is let in to an initial large pond during high tides. This pond serves as the source of water to the rest of the ponds until the next series of high tides. These high tides usually occur on a two week cycle.
STEP3 – Concentrating the Water Into the Brine
In order to concentrate the salt water into brine, a successive series of intermediate ponds are used. Well-made and maintained ponds allow the salt to proceed from one pond to the next using gravity. The depth of water allowed in each pond determines the strength which which the sun can act on the water to warm it. The ponds become successively more shallow allowing the water to heat up. The hotter the water becomes, the quicker it evaporates. The ponds at this stage are large to allow abundant wind flow across the water surface. During this process the degree of salinity of the water increases, almost to the point of crystallization.
STEP4 – Salt Cristallization
Water from the evaporative ponds is let into smaller crystallizing ponds. Crystallizing ponds are geometric networks of small ponds around which flows a common source of brine water. These ponds are smaller to aid in the harvest of the salt, which is performed manually using long wooden rakes. Alternatively, flor de sal is harvested off the top of the water using fine nets on wooden poles. Between each small pond is a berm which allows the working of the ponds and also a place for the harvested salt to drain off excess brine water before storage.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_empty_space][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]STEP5 – Harvesting Flower of Salt
Flor de sal is harvested from the top of the water, which is why it is sometimes considered as “the cream on top of the milk”. Flor de sal can only be harvested when the weather is agreeable. Too much wind and the crystals will sink to the bottom before the harvester has time to collect them. The fact that the crystals of flor de sal are at the start of their formative process explains their naturally fine and flaky nature. They can be considered as the seeds which grow into the larger crystals of coarse salt that form at the bottom of the ponds. The salt is normally harvested into baskets where it is allowed to rest and drain residual water and then stored indoors.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_images_carousel images=”218,215,216,217″ img_size=”500×500″ speed=”4000″ autoplay=”yes” hide_pagination_control=”yes” hide_prev_next_buttons=”yes” wrap=”yes”][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]STEP6 – Salt Harvesting
The product of a number of weeks of evaporation by the sun and wind and the crystallization process of the heavily saturated brine water, coarse sea salt is allowed to accumulate in the ponds until the point at which salt formation begins to slow. At this point, the skill and endurance of the harvester is put to the test. The method and care used in the harvest of the salt has a lot to do with the ability to obtain a good quality salt, a naturally white salt with shiny crystals. The salt at the bottom of the pond is broken up by the rake using some light blows and agitation and consequently raked to the sides of the ponds. This needs to be done carefully so as not to reach the earthen bottom of the pond. A layer of salt should always be left to insulate the bottom of the pond. The raking process acts as a natural cleansing mechanism for the salt as most impurities are removed by the flow of brine water through the crystals.
STEP7 – Storage
The harvested salt is raked into long pyramids along the berms of the ponds where it is left to rest for 2-3 days. This process allows most of the residual water to drain out back into the ponds. At the end of this process to salt is ready for storage or further processing/packaging. Storage can either take place in large protected piles in nearby warehouses or in protective plastic sacks