by Kimberly Colgan
We spent Three Kings Day at Salinas de Cabo Rojo in the southwest of the island. In English, Cabo Rojo means “Red Cape”. It gets this name because of the brine shrimp and halobacteria in the flats make the water look red, but the exact color of the flats depends on the weather, season, and organism profile, and is different every day. The Cabo Rojo Salt Flats Unit is one of the five US National Wildlife Refuges in Puerto Rico, and is home to numerous types of ecosystems including: hypersaline lagoons, salt marshes, subtropical dry forest, seagrass, marine lagoons, mangroves, and coral reefs. The hypersaline lagoons have a high concentration of salt, and have been used for salt mining since the Taíno people extracted salt in 700 AD.
To harvest the salt, ocean water is moved into a pond through a series of canals, where the water is left to evaporate for months. More water is added, and then left again to evaporate. This process repeats until the salt crystals are plentiful enough to be harvested. The salt is used in some locally produced soaps, but the majority is exported, and then used for de-icing sidewalks, water softening, and as a supplement in livestock feed. These salt flats provide a habitat for local flora and fauna, while also creating an industry, to provide both economic and ecological services for the island.