Harvesting the Salt of Lac Assal

Aras harvests the salt at the shore of Lac Assal in Djibouti. His family sells the salt to tourists.

Trading with salt from Lac Assal goes back to bartering with Abyssinian caravans by local Afar and Issa tribes, and salt extraction by the French colonial power in the 19th century. Today, industrial mining under Chinese leadership extracts millions of tonnes of salt per year from Lac Assal, the world’s largest salt reserve.

The translation of Lac Assal’s Arabic name means honey lake. Salt concentration in Lac Assal reaches 35 percent, ten times the salinity of the sea. The lake is situated 155 metres below sea level in one of the hottest places on Earth.

The Salt of the Earth

Salt is essential to keep us alive. Humans have used salt for food preservation and seasoning for thousands of years. Salt’s scarcity made it a trading commodity almost as precious as gold – illustrated by the etymology of the word salary. Roads and cities have been built based on salt: the Roman Via Salaria led from the Adriatic coast to Rome, and Salzburg in Austria is named after its mines. Wars have been fought over salt.

Lac Assal’s Volcanic Ground

Lac Assal is the lowest point in Africa situated in the Afar Triangle in the north of the East African Rift overlapping the border regions of Eritrea, Djibouti, and Ethiopia’s highlands of Abessynia. The floor of the Afar Depression is composed of lava. One of Earth’s five lava lakes, Ethiopia’s Erta Ale, is found here.

The East African Rift is the largest seismically active rift system on Earth today, running from the Gulf of Aden in the north all the way to Mozambique in the south. The two parts of the African Plate, the Somali Plate and the Nubian Plate, are breaking apart at a rate of 6 to 7 mm annually. In about 10 million years, the Somalian plate will break off, and a new ocean basin will form.

Hominids aged two million years were found in the Afar Triangle’s Danakil Depression. The “hellhole of creation” might actually be the cradle of humanity.

Aras harvests the salt at the shore of Lac Assal in Djibouti, a highly saline lake situated 155 metres below sea level. Depending on the wind, each segment of the shore produces its own shape and size of grains of salt. Aras' family sells the salt to tourists.
Aras harvests the salt at the shore of Lac Assal in Djibouti, a highly saline lake situated 155 metres below sea level. Depending on the wind, each segment of the shore produces its own shape and size of grains of salt. Aras’ family sells the salt to tourists.
To harvest different shapes and sizes of salt grains, Aras wades the shoreline of Lac Assal, whose length is 19 kilometres. The lowlands of the Afar Triangle are among the hottest places on Earth reaching temperatures up to 52 centigrades in summer.
To harvest different shapes and sizes of salt grains, Aras wades the shoreline of Lac Assal, whose length is 19 kilometres. The lowlands of the Afar Triangle are among the hottest places on Earth reaching temperatures up to 52 centigrades in summer.
Aras harvests salt from Lac Assal in Djibouti. Salt concentration in Lac Assal reaches 35 percent, ten times the salinity of the sea, making it the second most saline lake in the world after Don Juan Pond in Antarctica.
Aras harvests salt from Lac Assal in Djibouti. Salt concentration in Lac Assal reaches 35 percent, ten times the salinity of the sea, making it the second most saline lake in the world after Don Juan Pond in Antarctica.
Aras and his family harvest the salt at the shore of Lac Assal in Djibouti. Salt extraction from Lac Assal by local tribes enabled trading with caravans from the highlands of Abyssinia. The bartering for coffee, sorghum, ivory, and slaves was a source of wealth for the local Afar tribes.
Aras and his family harvest the salt at the shore of Lac Assal in Djibouti. Salt extraction from Lac Assal by local tribes enabled trading with caravans from the highlands of Abyssinia. The bartering for coffee, sorghum, ivory, and slaves was a source of wealth for the local Afar tribes.
Salt pieces in different shapes and sizes are formed from the salinic water depending on the wind blowing over Lac Assal and onto the shore.
Salt pieces in different shapes and sizes are formed from the salinic water depending on the wind blowing over Lac Assal and onto the shore.
Aras and his family harvest the salt at the shore of Lac Assal in Djibouti. The extraction of salt from Lac Assal has a long tradition among local Afar tribes. The lake in the desert in the north of the Great Rift Valley is based on volcanic basalt, and surrounded by geothermal springs and the Ardoukoba volcano that last erupted in 1978.
Aras and his family harvest the salt at the shore of Lac Assal in Djibouti. The extraction of salt from Lac Assal has a long tradition among local Afar tribes. The lake in the desert in the north of the Great Rift Valley is based on volcanic basalt, and surrounded by geothermal springs and the Ardoukoba volcano that last erupted in 1978.
Industrial mining under Chinese leadership extracts millions of tonnes of salt per year from Djibouti's Lac Assal. Lake Assal is the world's largest salt reserve. Trading with salt from Lac Assal goes back to bartering with Abyssinian caravans by local Afar tribes, and salt extraction by the French colonial power in the 19th century.
Industrial mining under Chinese leadership extracts millions of tonnes of salt per year from Djibouti’s Lac Assal. Lake Assal is the world’s largest salt reserve. Trading with salt from Lac Assal goes back to bartering with Abyssinian caravans by local Afar tribes, and salt extraction by the French colonial power in the 19th century.