Harvesting Salt Here on St. John

harvesting salt
Harvesting salt at a salt pond – May 11, 2022

Hi all, this is Jenn with Explore STJ Island Tours. I did something super cool yesterday, and Hillary has graciously allowed me to share it with all of you!

Ok, now let’s set the scene… I was having lunch at the Beach Bar Monday afternoon when Robin, one of the owners of The Terrace restaurant, came over to chat. He was holding a bag filled with small Tupperware containers. “Have you been down to Salt Pond to get some salt,” he asked me. “WHAT??!!!” I responded with excitement!

You see, it’s not often that any of our salt ponds here on St. John produce salt. The last time that this particular salt pond produced a large amount of salt was back in 2015. (Click here to read the story I wrote about this back then.) So when this happens, those of us living here on island tend to get very excited. 🙂

Now when I refer to a salt pond, I do not mean Salt Pond bay, which is the beautiful, blue bay beyond Coral Bay and Miss Lucy’s. I am referring to an actual salt pond, which is typically a brown or almost a coppery color. The salt pond that is currently producing salt is located right next to Salt Pond bay. Confusing, I know. 🙂

Harvesting Salt Here on St. John 1
Salt Pond bay is located on the southeastern part of St. John.
Harvesting Salt Here on St. John 2
The salt pond currently producing salt is located beside Salt Pond bay/beach.

Now you may be wondering what makes a salt pond. You may also be wondering what makes it produce salt every then and again. Admittedly, I am not a salt expert, so I am going to defer to Mr. Gerald Singer, author of St. John Off the Beaten Path:

Because of its location on this arid and windswept part of the island, Salt Pond is the most likely place to find 100% natural St. John sea salt – no fat, no carbs, no cholesterol, no preservatives.

How Does the Salt Get There?
Saltwater enters the pond from the sea by seepage at high tides and by waves breaking over the surface during storms. Salt Pond is one of the only places on St. John that is below sea level. This condition prevents significant amounts of pond water from flowing back out to sea. Constant, intense sunlight and ever-present trade winds encourage an exceptionally high rate of evaporation. When rain is scarce, the water becomes extremely salty. Water can only hold a certain amount of salt in solution and when the salinity of the pond reaches that point, the salt crystallizes.

As the water level continues to drop, and more and more water is evaporated, a layer of salt is left along the edges of the pond. The longer the dry period, the higher the temperature, and the stronger the winds, the more this salt layer will extend towards the center of the pond and the thicker the layer becomes.

You can collect salt during these times by scooping up the salt with your hands, if it is still wet and soft. If the salt layer is dry and hard, use a knife or other sharp tool. (If you’ve forgotten to bring a container, just walk over to nearby Drunk Bay where there is a great deal of flotsam, and you’ll probably find something you can use.)

After the salt is collected, drain off as much water as possible and put it in the sun to dry further. You may be left with fine powdery salt, which you can enjoy on your food immediately or, if the dried crystals are large, you will first need to grind them up or pound them out.

The salt obtained from salt ponds is particularly tasty and healthy, containing all the minerals that are present in the sea, which include all those essential to the human body. So during the next dry spell, take the trail to St. John’s best salt pond for collecting salt and bring some back home.

Pretty amazing stuff, isn’t it??!!

Here are a couple of pics I took Wednesday morning…

Harvesting Salt Here on St. John 3
Salt crystalizing on a dead branch
Harvesting Salt Here on St. John 4
I rinsed the salt I harvested the best I could, and then I placed it onto a baking sheet and am drying it in the sun.

I reached out to the Virgin Islands National Park just to be certain that harvesting salt is allowed. It is, as long as it’s for personal use only, the superintendent said. 🙂

Afternoon article addition: The salt is on the edge of the pond. You do not need to walk into the salt pond to harvest it.  

So if you are lucky enough to be on island, be sure to stop by salt pond to harvest some sea salt. It probably won’t be there long, so it’s best to go sooner than later.

Not on island but planning to visit soon? Please consider booking an island tour with me! See the island and learn lots of cool stuff along the way! Please visit www.ExploreSTJ.com for more information. You can also email me at [email protected] or follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorestj or over on Instagram at @explorestj. Please book early. The island continues to be busy, and things book up fast. 🙂

Happy harvesting!

11 thoughts on “Harvesting Salt Here on St. John”

  1. Thanks for such an informative story! It was great! And I do not live on island but have visited many, many times and would love to visit Salt Pond. I do have a question, if you have to dig up the sand, does the salt have sand in it? (probably a stupid question but just wondering)

  2. Wondering how the national park feels about removal of salt from the pond and if introducing this practice to tourists will in turn make this precious source unaccessable to locals who have respectfully collected from this source for generations. I’ve always considered this a hush hush situation. Do we really want 30 people a day out there disturbing the pond and ruining the salt because they don’t understand how to properly collect it.

    • Good afternoon Rain,

      I just returned from Salt Pond where I was chatting with six generational Virgin Islanders. These women were so excited to share their harvest with both tourists and residents alike. They offered boxes and sifters. They spoke about how they loved to use the salt to cook, how rare this event was. Two of the women would not let a couple of vacationers leave until they accepted some of their salt harvest. It was beautiful to see, and I am happy I was there to experience it.

  3. Harvesting salt with my friend Sylvia in 2015 was possibly the most memorable experience of all my VI years. For the person concerned about digging it out of the sand, it crystallizes on the surface, no need to dig. Note that if you do wander out from shore, you can sink into some very black, gooey, sticky sediment. It’s best to go with a buddy in case you need to be pulled out.

  4. I was just there a month ago and went there to look for salt. Didn’t find any at that time. I’ve always wanted to get some from there!

  5. Yes my kids loved harvesting salt in 2015. We jokingly called it death salt because my husband was convinced we would all die from it. And no issues bringing it home either. We took a bunch and still have it in our grinder.

  6. My family was there in 2015. It looked like an iced landscape! It was beautiful! Crystalized on everything. I still have a large crystal under glass from then. We continued to visit for years after but never experienced it again.

  7. My husband and I were married on St. John and will be celebrating our 15th anniversary this year. It’s the “crystal” anniversary and I thought it would be nice to get him even just a small amount of salt crystals. I understand it’s not commercially sold but if someone is willing, I’m happy to trade for something unique to my area (Philadelphia area)!

Leave a Comment