Dust of the Sea
ON KNOWING HOW CLEAN
Collecting water or anything from the wild to eat or drink brings up the question ‘how clean is it? ‘ The Environment Agency (EA) monitors the beach at Exmouth and has classified water quality as ‘excellent’ for the last four years. However, they don’t monitor out of the summer season and also don’t check for everything. You can see their data here.
The catchments for Exmouth beach include the Exe Estuary and Littleham Brook.
Short term pollution can arise when faecal material (aka poo) runs into the sea from livestock, or from sewage and urban drains. Runoff from roads can also be a problem and all of these risks are increased after heavy rainfall. Water quality on Exmouth beach can be reduced after heavy rain with runoff from Littleham Brook from agricultural land although the EA suggest that the quality returns to normal after 1-3 days. In 2018 in Exmouth there were 6 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short-term pollution.
Surfers against Sewage have created a free water quality and beach safety app which you can download here and which gives safety alerts: https://www.sas.org.uk/safer-seas-service/#alerts-info.
EXTRACTING EXMOUTH SALT
The first stage of the process of extracting salt was to filter the water of sediment. I did this using coffee filter papers. I then put 3 litres of water in a ceramic pot. I wasn’t sure about whether to use metal or not – from what I’ve read there may be a possibility of contamination this way so I played it safe. The water boiled then simmered on a low heat for a couple of hours and then I could start to see salt crystals in the remaining water sparkling on the surface and a while later the water became sludgy – like old snow. At this moment I took it off the hob and spread it out on a ceramic dish to enable the last water to evaporate. As its February this didn’t really happen in ambient house temperatures so I finished it off in the top of the airing cupboard. By this time white clumpy crystals had formed. It was pretty exciting seeing the salt emerge from the clear water. I weighed the salt and got 100g from 3 litres. Salinity of sea water is approximately 3.1-3.8%.
Salt was probably the first traded commodity.
Salary comes from the Latin word salarium, which has the root sal, or “salt.” In ancient Rome, it specifically meant the amount of money allotted to a Roman soldier to buy salt, an essential commodity. Salt-making and use was a feature of life in all ancient communities in order to preserve food through the winter months.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SALT IN THE OCEANS AND ESTUARIES
Most of this sea salt is sodium chloride but there may also be other minerals such as magnesium, calcium and potassium. These elements are essential for marine life. Salinity, the amount of salt in the water, is critical for the estuary wildlife where salty sea water and fresh water from rivers meet. Salinity impacts on ocean currents across the world. Salinity causes water to freeze at different temperatures and to sink as its heavier. As ocean circulation is created by the rising and sinking of cooler and warmer waters the amount of salt in the water is critical. As more meltwater from glaciers enters the sea saltiness can get diluted, or as more water evaporates as temperatures rise salt can become more concentrated. In Tidelines we will be exploring the impact of changing salinity on the estuary and its inhabitants.
Poet Pablo Neruda from Ode to Salt expresses salt’s basic and essential nature:
Dust of the sea, in you
the tongue receives a kiss
from ocean night:
taste imparts to every seasoned
dish your ocean essence;
wave from the salt cellar
reveals to us
more than domestic whiteness;
in it, we taste infinitude.
Love a good read? Love the sea? Tidelines invites you to take part in an Exe estuary-wide summer read of Rachel Carson’s book The Sea Around Us working with Devon Libraries and Libraries Unlimited. “Reading it will ensure that you never look at the sea in the same way...
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Things you notice epic or ordinary can be logged into The Alamanac via the website Almanac page. This a long term project and can grow over a number of years like a diary. It will create a picture of the estuary and how it is changing. You can enter almanac notes from...
Questions are now being asked! You can find them here. As I explore the estuary and around I find myself with more and more questions about how it all works and I imagine many of us share the same questions. For example I don't know what happens and how it shows when...
Please find some links to interesting resources and websites all about the Exe. There are so many different ways to look at the Exe Estuary and this is a growing list so please do send us any recommendations. We are of course not responsible for any content on these...
People have started contributing photos of the estuary or coastline and you can see them now in the online gallery. Hopefully this will inspire more people to send in more photos to make a diverse view of the Exe. Although many photos focus on the horizon, there is no...