Territory : Martinique
Town: Sainte-Anne. The pond of “Les Salines” is located in the southernmost point of Martinique.
Surface area: 512 acres, 240 of which are protected.
Connection to the hydrographic network, hydrology and seasonality:
The pond of “Les Salines” is a rather shallow coastal pond, permanently linked to the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Two channels communicate with the sea. As it is both shorter and wider, most exchanges with the sea go through the south-eastern channel, also known as the Canal Carrere. Every time the tide comes in, with the water rising up just over three feet, the sea water enters the pond and is then washed out into the Atlantic.
The pond also gets a supply of freshwater through its catchment area, whose surface area is over 150 square miles. Most of the site’s freshwater supply is made up of rain and runoff water, while a small fraction of incoming freshwater originates from small seasonal creeks and the “Ravine Maudite” (Cursed Gully).
The combination of daily seawater input and the occasional arrival of freshwater originating from the catchment area makes for varying concentrations of salt. Therefore, during the dry season, the water deficiency caused by evaporation can generate salt levels higher than 1.41 oz/L. During the rainy season, the green meadows and neighboring woodlands on the western shoreline, that are usually exposed, are temporarily submerged due to the overflow of freshwater (combination of rain water and catchment area water).
Flora and fauna
The landscape along the pond’s shoreline is mostly made up of trees or bushes of the four mangrove species found in the West Indies: red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) and gray mangrove (Conocarpus erectus). In the lower sections along the pond, a savanna landscape is also apparent, which gets completely submerged during the rainy season. These zones are filled with herbaceous vegetation, mainly Sporobolus indicus and Chloris inflata, which are typical to coastline environments with varying salt levels. Underwater, the pond’s benthic macro-flora is mostly made up of two species of macro-algae and three species of marine phanerogams: Dictyosphaeria cavernosa, Acanthophora spicifera, Thalassia testudinum, Halodule wrightii and Rupia maritima.
Back on dry land, on the sandy stretch of ground separating the lagoon from the sea, a forest has grown on the sand. It mainly includes manchineel trees (Hippomane mancinella), white trumpet trees (Tabebuia pallida), seagrape (Coccoloba uvifera), as well as catalpas (Thespesia populnea), a few copperwood trees (Bursera simaruba) and mimosas (Acacia farnesiana). A notable fact is that a few Hypomeapes capre plates still exist, which help affix the sand.
The fauna is extremely rich and varied: 38 species of fish, 15 species of shellfish and a number of bird species have been observed.
The mangroves growing alongside the pond provide a suitable habitat for a number of marine species: crabs (10 recorded species), shrimps (5 recorded species) and fry find permanent refuge and food there. Going up the food chain, it is therefore not surprising to see wading birds such as green herons or great herons fishing in the shallow waters.
The mud flats adjacent to the pond are crucial to a number of migratory bird species. Indeed, this site is the last stop before crossing the Saint Lucia Channel for many shorebirds coming from North America, and for others heading towards the Guiana Shield. After having flown several thousand miles, sandpipers and plovers rest, feed and sometimes hibernate on-site.
Finally, along the beach, sea turtles return to lay their eggs between April and June, depending on the species.
Protection and recognition
Since 1998, the Étang des Salines pond has been protected by the Conservatoire du littoral. It is managed by the city hall of Sainte-Anne, and was recognized as a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention on September 15, 2008.
Issues, usage, production, pressure and management
Located at the foot of a 150 square mile catchment area, the Étang des Salines pond is the natural container for any runoff water. The pollution originating from the catchment area is essentially made up of pesticides used in industrial farming. The other major source of pollution and site deterioration is caused by the many visits to the site and its surroundings. Indeed, this zone welcomes huge numbers of tourists, as it also has one of Martinique’s most popular beaches, that attracts close to one million visitors per year.
Located on the southernmost point of Martinique, the salt marshes were farmed traditionally as soon as the first French settlers arrived. From World War II onwards, some of these stretches of water were turned into larger-scale salt ponds. To compensate for the lack of salt produced by mainland France during the war, the Central Marine Factory built and farmed 42 acres of salt pans in Fond Moustiques and its surroundings. Salt farming in the area was ceased for good in 1965. The Étang des Salines (“Salt Pond” in French) draws its name from the region’s history.
Discover the site
A bird observatory, information on the area’s fauna and flora, and hiking paths on stilts – set up by the Conservatoire du littoral and the Sainte-Anne city hall – allow curious visitors to discover the pond and watch its exceptional fauna.