21 Jan 2018

Plastics invade highest quality salt

Most of us were already aware of the invasion of plastics in marine environments. But, as usual, we think of this as a problem far from our daily lives, unless we are directly involved in sea-related activities. We see images of plastic waste floating on the sea as we see polar bears wandering on ever thinning ice floes. Concerning, yes, but what can we do? However, plastic pollution is more ubiquitous than we believe. Microplastics are the result of both direct discharge of unused microbeads and pellets (e.g. polymers used for the extrusion of plastic pieces, see photo) and the degradation of floating debris. They invade not only the water itself but the flora and fauna the oceans host, as they absorb or ingest it. Hence, microplastics have now reached our kitchens, regardless of where we live. Among others, it affects the production of sea salt. A type of salt that we consume under the idea that it should be healthier than other (industrial) salts. In the past years, different studies have found microplastics in salt produced in Europe, the US and China, providing evidence of the global scale of the problem. Microscope images of salt offer a multicoloured view of what should be a collection of regular-shaped crystals. A recent study by the German TV channel NDR has gone further: it has shown that fleur de sel, the jewel of the crown among gourmet salts, shows a higher degree of pollution by microplastics than regular sea salt. This is because fleur de sel is harvested on the surface of the crystallizers and, indirectly, floating microplastics come along. The study has looked at half a dozen fleur de sels obtained in Europe and the results are consistent. The idea of fleur de sel being healthier and tastier that other sea salts is, thus, challenged. Consumers are ready to pay much higher prices for it, but at what cost?

26 Nov 2017

Are salinas detrimental for the environment?

Some days ago, we came across an article about how salinas work and the environmental problems they cause (https://pspstation.org/como-funciona-una-salinera/), featured in a website about computer games, a world away from salt making. The author (unknown to us) stated that salt making was detrimental to the environment because “it prevents animals to use the space they occupy for living and it changes the chemical properties of the soil for cultivation”. He (or she) also explains that the remains of the salt production -eaux mères, as they are known- are toxic for the environment, poison the animals and their long-term effects are unknown.

The article clearly fails to understand that salinas are hotspots for halophile (i.e. salt loving) biodiversity, highly valuable, both in scientific and economic terms, due to their rarity and fragility. Salinas are known for enhancing rather than destroying biodiversity. They constitute important wetland enclaves both at the coast (due to their size) and inland (due to their location). Evidently, the salt making ponds occupy space that cannot be used for other purposes (e.g. agriculture) but they are usually small and do not affect land use in adjacent plots. The eaux mères are in fact considered a subproduct -rather than a waste- with applied value, and should thus not be dumped in the environment. Furthermore, the location of a salina is determined by the presence of salt in nature, especially in the case of inland salinas. Therefore, animals and crops were already adapted to it, anyway.

Yes, strictly speaking, salinas have an impact on the environment. But it is a positive one! They enhance biodiversity, use a renewable resource, create employment and provide a landscape mosaic of great aesthetic value. Pity the author failed to understand this. From our side, lesson learnt. We will never pronounce our opinion on computer games, a world away from our expertise (Photo: ©IPAISAL).  

La sal agrícola, ¿un disparate?

El otro día, en uno de esos escasos momentos de tranquilidad donde (casi) nunca viene nadie a importunarte estaba releyendo un libro clásico: “Antología del disparate”. Por si alguien no lo conoce, diré que el subtítulo es descriptivo del contenido: Contestaciones disparatadas en exámenes y reválidas. Sin embargo yo creo que va mucho más allá. Es una colección de aforismos desquiciados, de ventanas abiertas a universos paralelos y, también, una llamada de atención a quienes se dedican profesionalmente a la enseñanza. Porque algo tendrán que ver en los resultados prácticos de su trabajo.

El caso es que leí la siguiente entrada: Salinas.- Son unos sitios encharcados donde se cultiva la sal. Está sacada de un examen, de tercer curso de bachillerato, en el mes de junio de 1961. Me llamó la atención, claro, por el tema. Pero luego pensé en la anécdota que me contaron una vez. Un joven profesional fue a visitar a un antiguo profesor. Lo encontró en su despacho preparando las preguntas para un examen. El joven se interesó por el cuestionario y el profesor se lo enseñó. 

-¡Qué curioso! –le dijo-. Son las mismas que nos ponía a nosotros.
-Sí –contestó el profesor-. Las preguntas son iguales, las que han cambiado son las respuestas.

Desde hace tiempo se está trabajando por alcanzar el reconocimiento de actividad agraria del trabajo en las salinas de evaporación solar. Insisto en la característica de la evaporación solar porque también se obtiene sal con métodos de excavación (minería de cámaras y pilares o sondeos) y de evaporación forzada en instalaciones industriales específicas. En esta semana que termina un organismo internacional, la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO), ha reconocido al Valle Salado de Añana, un lugar salinero, como Sistema Importante del Patrimonio Agrícola Mundial (SIPAM). Así, décadas después del “disparate” de ese alumno, resulta que tenía razón: en las salinas se cultiva la sal (Photo ©IPAISAL).

8 Nov 2017

Welcome to our blog on saltscapes!

Some years ago, no one had heard of the word saltscapes and some even critisized us for using it. Now it is a common term among scholars and we are very happy for it. So the natural evolution is to open our own blog on saltscapes. From here, we want to share with you our thoughts and actions on saltscapes, as well as anything we find worth sharing about this fascinating issue! Please do not forget to follow us on facebook and twitter for short news and in our journal El Alfolí, for deeper background articles, book reviews and salt-related news. Welcome! (Photo ©IPAISAL)