The wind carries swirls of foam across shallow flamingo-pink pools that dapple the Caribbean island of Bonaire. Across a one-lane road, the surf crashes against piles of bleached coral, filling the air with a briny haze. In the distance, other pools shine brown and violent green, while imposing pyramids of salt crystals glint in the sunlight.
These are Bonaire’s salt flats, where seawater evaporates in the sun and wind, leaving behind rippling expanses of colorful algae and bacteria adapted to extreme saline conditions. Salt has been harvested here for hundreds of years, first by African slaves of the Dutch government, then by private industry. Now the historic salt flats are serving as inspiration for a renewable energy future in Bonaire, based on the island’s abundant wind, sun, and algae.
Dubbed one of the “ABC Islands” of the Netherlands Antilles, Bonaire isn’t as well known as nearby Aruba and Curacao. Tourists tend to overlook it because it has few sandy beaches, no high-rise resorts, and no appreciable nightlife. Still, the economy is based almost entirely on tourism—mostly associated with scuba divers who come to explore the coral reefs of a marine reserve along the island’s coast.
Salt is Bonaire’s only export, and many necessities, including food and fuel, must be imported.
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Bonaire’s salt flats, where algae and bacteria color pools of evaporating seawater.