No matter how much or how little you enjoy your work life, you will love your job more after reading my story below.
The shores of Lake Retba, also known as Lac Rose, used to be the legendary finishing point for the infamous Dakar Rally before the event was re-located to South America. Pink Lake, as it is called in English, is located approximately 30 km (20 mi) north-east of Dakar, Senegal. Separated from the Atlantic Ocean by only a narrow strip of sand dunes and with a surface area of 3 sqkm (1 sqmi) and a maximum depth of 3 m (9.8 ft), it is small, very salty (the salt content of Pink Lake is greater than that of the Dead Sea) …and, of course, pink. Best known for its pink glow, which mostly occurs during the dry season from November to June, the lake is truly an unusual sight. The pinkish hue of the water is caused by the Dunaliella salina algea, which produces a pink pigment to assist in light absorption, and high magnesium chloride content.
Dakar is the capital of Senegal, in West Africa. It’s an Atlantic port on the Cap-Vert peninsula. Its traditional Médina quarter is home to the Grande Mosquée, marked by a towering minaret. The Musée Théodore Monod displays cultural artifacts including clothing, drums, carvings and tools. The city’s vibrant nightlife is inspired by the local mbalax music.
Pink Lake is officially recognized and classified as a mine by the state of Senegal. It is used extensively for the harvesting of salt. Local salt diggers wade into the water up to their chests equipped with poles to loosen the salt from the bottom of the lake and shovels to lift the salt into their boat. They can spend up to 7 hours in the pink water, protected against tissues damage only by a coat of shea butter which is derived from the African shea nut and used as a skin lotion. When the boats are full, the men return to land where the salt is unloaded by women, piled high along the shoreline and eventually filled into bags by hand. The most common use for the salt is the preservation of fish. Seventy percent of the salt is exported to the Ivory Coast with the rest sold to other African countries and Europe, where the salt is used in winter on icy roads.
Interestingly, the workers have organized themselves to avoid conflict among the salt diggers and to preserve the environmental integrity of the lake. In 1994 they formed a Management Committee which oversees the salt harvest, the commercialization of their product and the replenishment of the salt resources. Among other strategies, the salt diggers have agreed to leave parts of the lake dormant for 6 months on a rotation basis and to allow the salt to regenerate. They also have agreed to prohibit engine use for the harvesting of the salt.
Collecting salt from the bottom of Pink Lake is hard labour. It is hazardous work but also lucrative - salt diggers can earn about US $ 20.- per day. Normally, workers do not do this work for long. As soon as the salt diggers have earned enough, they migrate either to Dakar, to other West African countries to set up a business or even to Europe for a better life.
But despite their environmental efforts, Pink Lake is threatened. There is clear evidence of environmental degradation, detrimental effects of climate change and negative consequences from housing developments around the lake. Since 1990, the size of the lake has shrunk by 25%, from 4 sqkm to 3 sqkm. Because of its pink color and uniqueness in the natural world, it has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. Hopefully, full protection of Lake Retba under UNESCO will be upcoming in the not so distant future.
Remember, next time you drive on an icy road that has been salted, think with gratitude of the salt diggers of Pink Lake in Senegal.