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Froth at the edge of the small pond at Yallahs Point in St Thomas.
Salt crystals glisten on a beach of the small pond at Yallahs, St Thomas.

AROUND JA WITH PAUL H.
Hotel rooms increasing in Portland

To the southeast of the town of Yallahs in St Thomas are two ponds of briny water, one is much bigger than the other. They are well known as the Yallahs Ponds. Their existence, a source of great fascination for locals and visitors alike, is steeped in myths and folklore that some people actually believe. I have had a few heated arguments over them, and invariably I won. I actually love the romanticisation of the two-brother stories, but I am an eternal realist.

There is absolutely no truth to the stories of the two brothers who fought bitterly over inherited lands that sank below sea level, thus becoming ponds, so none of them inherited the lands. Another version of the legend is that one of the brothers had an affair with the other's wife while he was away in Kingston. Devastated by his brother's betrayal, he cried so hard that his tears turned into two ponds in which the offending brother and his wife drowned.

Yet another angle is that one brother brutally chopped the other to death, thus the red colour that the ponds assume at times. But nothing could be farther from the truth. My research has revealed that the colours of the water, ranging from brownish, greenish, pinkish, yellowish, and reddish, depending on the saline and bacteria levels. So much for romance and symbolism. The most plausible explanation is the one that says the land where the ponds are sank during the 1692 earthquake. The two pockets of seawater then became super-saline because of evaporation.

The bigger one has a maximum depth of 14 feet, and is 10 times saltier that the sea, while the smaller has a maximum of four feet. It is not as salty as the sea on the surface, but after three feet it is. Their ecology is very complex and unusual. Only certain creatures can live within them. They are replete with fascinating organisms, such as the archae-bacteria. In 2011, The University of the West Indies operated a microscopic brine shrimp pilot project in the ponds.

They were originally two detached bodies of water, separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land called a berm, but in October 1902 they emitted an overpowering stench that wafted all the way to Kingston. It was eventually found that hydrogen sulphide in the big pond, created by a species of bacteria that proliferates in rain water, was the cause of the malodorous air. To release the stagnant water from the big pond, a channel was created between it and the smaller one, and another between the smaller one and the sea. Since then they have not been two ponds independent of each other.

In 2013 when another nauseating odour permeated the Corporate Area, it was found that a build-up of hydrogen sulphide, just like in 1902, was the cause. Apparently the gap between the small section and the sea was blocked by sand and debris thus preventing seawater from flowing into the ponds to 'purify' it. In the dry season, when the water level is low, the water becomes saltier, because of evaporation. The excessive growth of algae in the ponds causes the manufacturing of hydrogen sulphide, which escapes into the air.

When I visited recently, the smaller pond had a dark-yellowish shade, white, sud-like substances were frothing at the edge of the water, and millions of salt crystals glistened on the ground. Under the clear foreshore water, man-made objects are partially embedded in a flat, smooth expanse of rock. How did they get into the rock, which seems to grow around them?

And with all the legends, folklore, and fascination ecology of flora and fauna, and the natural beauty of the brother's ponds, why are they not marketed as a tourist attraction in St Thomas? This question must not be taken with a grain of salt as I did with the salty folklore surrounding the Yallahs Ponds. 

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