The Étang de Thau is an estuarial lagoon bordering the northern edge of the Mediterranean Sea in the Hérault department of France. It is home to the largest shellfish farming area on the Mediterranean Sea and produces 12,000 metric tonnes (13,227 US tons) of oysters per year. With an average depth of only 5 meters (16 feet), it is fed by inland streams and rivers, an underground water source, and the tides of the Mediterranean Sea that enter the lagoon through canals at the seaside towns of Marseillan and Sète. While the shellfish farmers’ docks are located all along the shores, there is a concentration of them in Bouzigues, lit up on the right of this image.
The racks near the horizon line in this image are where some of the shellfish destined for restaurants and dinner tables are raised. However, their quality is highly dependent on the actions of the people who visit and live in the surrounding areas. The runoff from towns, farms, and vineyards upstream in addition to the activities on the lagoon have a significant impact on the copious organic matter and nutrients present in the lagoon, at times decreasing the levels of oxygen in the water and making the shellfish toxic to consume. Because of this, the water quality is constantly monitored leading to times when the harvesting is halted, due to high toxicity, until the balance has been restored. Having frequently eaten the succulent mussels and oysters from the Étang de Thau, I hold the place near and dear to my heart. It’s a precious place with an ample amount of real “joie de vivre.”
Being here, it is easy to forget that the Pyrenees are not far away. The silhouette of the mountain in the left third of the frame is the Canigou. At an elevation of 2,784.66 meters (9,136 feet), it was once thought to be the highest peak in the Pyrenees, but subsequent measurements have disproved that. Weather patterns like the one in this image, where it’s clear at the lower altitudes all the way to Spain but cloudy at just the right altitude to give a spectacular sunset, are relatively rare and only happen, at most, a handful of times a year.
After capturing the images for “Crépuscule sur l’Étang de Thau III,” I could see the shadow of the Earth moving across the sky as dusk faded and night set in across the region. I quickly decided to capture a wider panorama to show the edge of day and night traversing the Étang de Thau. This 118-degree horizontal field of view VAST image was created by combining tilt and shift optical movements on a medium format technical camera with panorama stitching.