Étang de Thau
|Étang de Thau|
|Max. length||21 km|
|Max. width||8 km|
|Surface area||7,012 ha|
|Average depth||4 m|
|Max. depth||30 m|
|Surface elevation||0 m|
|Settlements||Marseillan, Mèze, Bouzigues, Balaruc-les-Bains, Sète|
Étang de Thau (French pronunciation: [etɑ̃ də to]; Occitan: Estanh de Taur) or Bassin de Thau is the largest of a string of étangs (lakes) that stretch along the Languedoc-Roussillon, French coast from the Rhône River to the foothills of the Pyrenees which form the border to Spain. It is the second largest lake in France.
It is about 21 km long and 8 km wide, with an area of 7,012 hectares. The mean depth of the étang is 4.5m, but in the central navigation channel it can be 10 metres deep. Near Bouzigues there is a 100 metre diameter depression of 30 metres. This 'Fosse de la Vise' is the source of a hot spring that feeds the spa in Balaruc.
Its size and depth, which distinguish it from other lagoons of the region, is explained by the geomorphology of the region: it is the anticline formed from folding which produced the corresponding syncline of the Gardiole in the north east.
Until relatively recently the étangs from Marseillan to the Rhône were a continuous stretch of inland waterway. Early settlers described this as 'une petite mer intérieure et tranquille'. It provided access to, in particular, Marseillan - a fishing village that became a trade centre.
Linked, now, by the Canal du Rhône à Sète to the river Rhône and by the Canal du Midi to Bordeaux via Toulouse, the étang also has access to the Mediterranean at Sète. There is also a small canal 'le canal des Allemands' or the 'pisse-saume' that links the western end to the sea at Marseillan Plage. This canal is only suitable for small craft since both road and railway bridges restrict height.
To the east, between Balaruc and Sète, the borders of the lagoon are largely industrial. The south bank is formed by the coastal strip from Sète to Cap d'Agde. The northern side has villages dedicated to fishing and the production of shellfish. There are harbours in the towns of Marseillan, Mèze and Bouzigues, with smaller ports dedicated to shellfish on the northern shore.
Located between the towns of Sète and Marseillan in the Hérault département, the Étang de Thau is shared administratively by the communes of (running clockwise): Balaruc-le-Vieux, Balaruc-les-Bains, Frontignan, Sète, Marseillan, Mèze, Loupian and Bouzigues.
Economy and natural resources
Open to the sea the étang has fish such as the dorade (bream), but more importantly a thriving shellfish industry. 18 sorts of shellfish are taken from the étang - the most important being oysters. 750 producers farm 2,750 oyster tables and take some 13,000 tonnes annually. This provides for about 8.5% of France's consumption. Oysters from the Étang de Thau are marketed under the name of huîtres de Bouzigues (Bouzigues Oysters) after the village where oyster production started. They are a flat variety. Fixed with cement to ropes, the young oysters are immersed in the water until they reach a size suitable for consumption. Thau water is graded A and so shellfish can be caught and consumed within minutes.
In addition to oysters, some 3,000 tonnes of mussels are produced every year.
Apart from fishing and shellfish, the Étang de Thau provides income through tourism, particularly via sailing schools.
Flamingos near Bouzigues
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