Pekelmeer is one of the island’s main saltwater lakes and covers an area of 68.5 km² (6,850 hectares). It is located on the flat, low-elevation southern end of the island, about 10 kilometres south of Kralendijk. The area used to be a series of natural shallow lagoons, but these have been modified over hundreds of years for salt production. It is now connected to the open sea by an artificial channel, and water levels are adjusted for maximum salt production. The salt flats range in colour from turquoise blue when they have just been flooded, to pink pools filled with brine shrimp, to the white of the dried salt chrystals. The area does not have much vegetation; a few bushes of Buttonwood (Conocarpus erecta) grow along the shores of some lagoons. Most of Pekelmeer’s salt-flats are government owned but are leased to the commercial salt works company Cargill Salt Bonaire N.V. Pekelmeer has been designated as a wetland of international importance and is listed as Ramsar Site no. 200.
Birdlife International has designated Pekelmeer Saltworks as an Important Bird Area for Bonaire. The area has been denominated as IBA AN014. The area is especially significant for the Caribbean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber). Pekelmeer supports one of the most important nesting colonies of Caribbean Flamingo in the Caribbean. A 55 hectare area (including an island) has actually been set aside since 1969 as a dedicated Flamingo Breeding Reserve. While flamingos forage at various sites around the island they have only established breeding colonies adjacent to the Pekelmeer and more recently in Gotomeer, on the south shore of the Washington Slagbaai National Park. It is believed that this nesting site is critical to their survival. When the breeding season is over, they fly out to the South American mainland to feed in lagoons along the coast of the state of Falcón in Venezuela.
Pekelmeer Saltworks is an important feeding area for pelicans, herons and various migratory shorebirds that breed in North America. Globally important numbers of Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and regionally important numbers of Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis) and Least Tern (Sterna antillarum) nest here. Pekelmeer is also the only known nesting area on Bonaire for the Royal Tern (Sterna maximus). Other breeding birds include the Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) and Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus).Source: BirdLife International. (2008). Important Bird Areas in the Caribbean: Key sites for Conservation. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International. (BirdLife Conservation Series No. 15).