The last sea salt farmers of the East China Sea

The last sea salt farmers of the East China Sea

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This ancient cash crop has been farmed for 1,300 years. Now, Hua’ao Island is the only place that still harvests it.

More than 18,000 largely uninhabited islands lie adrift in the remote waters of the East China Sea. But one rises sharply from the rest: Hua’ao Island. This 66 million-year-old island is home to the region’s last remaining salt flats, and area farmers have been harvesting sea salt here for at least 1,300 years. These salt flats, or seawater evaporation pools, are not mere historical relics, though: China is currently one of the largest sea salt producers in the world, exporting about 66 million tonnes a year.

After the island’s farmers pump seawater into ponds, the water begins to evaporate. Farmers then remove sediments and drain the rest of the water, leaving a fine layer of sea salt that is then filtered, cleaned and shipped. Just 40 of the island’s 1,000 residents harvest salt, with the majority of locals employed in the island’s growing tourism industry, which centres on the Hua’ao Stone Forest: an area of sea-sculpted volcanic rock formations that cover the islet’s craggy shores.

(Video by Runze Yu, text by Emily Cavanagh) 

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