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I was idly browsing on google maps and came across this area on the Atlantic coast of France.

The terrain looks intriguing. What is it, any idea? They look like water bodies. But the shapes are not the typical natural outlines but more like a manmade pool. The region does not seem like a natural swamp and there's lots of roads through it etc.

Any idea? enter image description here

  • If you look in satellite view and street view, you can see the salt pans. Someone spent a lot of time tracing out everything for Google Maps, but it doesn't look quite as dramatic in the actual photographs. – Zach Lipton Jun 1 '17 at 8:33
  • @ZachLipton Yes. The satellite image looks very different. – curious_cat Jun 1 '17 at 9:30
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    @ZachLipton Have a feeling Google may well have mostly automated this tracing, I'm thinking. – JeopardyTempest Jun 1 '17 at 17:50
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    "Someone spent a lot of time tracing " that's largely automated now, Zach – Fattie Jun 1 '17 at 19:08
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It's a region with five main features in the marshes, that you can even see in Google Street View:

salt meadow 1 salt meadow 2 salt meadow 3 salt meadow (sat view)

Have you seen the cows in the first photo?

salt farming salt farming (sat view)

Have you seen the small dikes inside the ponds that are still used? They disappear when the salt pond gets abandoned.

fisheries fisheries (sat view)

Have you seen the huts along the canal?

  • closer to the coast, polders with oyster farming (ostréiculture) like here (satellite view here) where some seem to specialize in the oyster larvae (naissains) that will then grow further somewhere else;

polders polders

When zooming you'll see the oyster bags from above (dark green zones in the ponds).

oyster farming (sat view)

See the oyster bags there too.

salt pond salt pond (sat view)

Compare with the former and actual salt ponds.

  • Looks like Holland. – gerrit Jul 24 at 7:26
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In a curious coincidence, there was a question about this part of France just a few hours ago.

You are looking at the Noirmoutier area of France, which in the past was one of the world's premier regions for the production of Fleur de Sel:

a salt that forms as a thin, delicate crust on the surface of seawater as it evaporates.

It is produced thus:

One method of gathering sea salt is to draw seawater into marsh basins or salt pans and allow the water to evaporate, leaving behind the salt that was dissolved in it. As the water evaporates, most of the salt precipitates out on the bottom of the marsh or pan (and is later collected as ordinary sea salt), but some salt crystals float on the surface of the water, forming a delicate crust of intricate pyramidal crystals. This is fleur de sel.

The map you include in your question shows salt pans. For more on this intriguing topic, I can heartily recommend 'Salt: A World History' by Mark Kurlansky, available from the usual booksellers.

Tourism forms a major part of the economy of Noirmoutier these days, and you will find many places willing to sell you some genuine Noirmoutier fleur de sel.


However, as pointed out by peufeu, the particular area you show may in fact not contain salt pans (although there are a lot in the area) - what is shown here may be oyster ponds for in-shore shellfish farming, another activity common in the area.

This tourism info page about the area includes this image of a fishery:

"Fishery"

and the text

In the sheltered waters of the bay, in-shore fishing and oyster farming are important industries in the small communities of Bouin and Beauvoir sur Mer.

Also, compare and contrast this picture of salt-farming:

salt farming

and this picture of oyster farming:

oyster farming

both from another tourism site for the area. The more irregular water features you're asking about seem more like the latter.

Still read the salt book, though :)

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    A curious coincidence? I beg to differ - More than likely the asker saw that other question and looked up the area on Google Maps. – user29850 Jun 1 '17 at 11:18
  • I have been to this part of France several times, and even once bought a a jar of this salt as a gift :-) – maguirenumber6 Jun 1 '17 at 14:43
  • even if that's the explanation, it's still a curious coincidence! (with an explanation) Well done, Sherlock! and yeah, it's the only salt to use! – Fattie Jun 1 '17 at 19:08
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    Not sure about them being salt pans (the shape is different, see here goo.gl/maps/UHNzVXttbyw). I suggest saltwater ponds used for oyster farming, there is a lot of it going on in this region. – peufeu Jun 2 '17 at 6:56
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    @peufeu you make a good point. Updating the answer appropriately. – AakashM Jun 2 '17 at 9:47
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You can also look at some of the canals or ditches on Google Street View.

Some background on sel de fleur from Mark Kurlansky's excellent history of salt:

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