It looks like something out of a fantastical cartoon tale, or Greta Gerwig’s recently constructed Barbie Land, but this pink lake is very real. Its name is Lake Hillier and it’s found on a small island off southwest Australia.
Lake Hillier is a saline lake, but the water’s high salt content levels – said to be similar to those of the Dead Sea – is only one factor for the pink hue. The organisms living in Lake Hillier also contribute to the water staying pink year-round, and even once it’s been bottled.
The remarkable sight is found on Middle Island, the largest island of the Recherche Archipelago, off the south coast of Western Australia. Its close proximity to the sea makes the contrast all the more pronounced.
As the archipelago’s name suggests, the islands are used for research purposes and cannot be accessed. It means, that though the pink water is safe for humans to swim in, the only way Middle Island can be admired is from helicopter rides.
When you get towards the shore of Lake Hillier, the water looks less like the hot pink it does from the skies. Instead, it has a lighter, more translucent quality. It’s still undoubtedly pink but appears less bright than from above.
The pink is caused by a combination of Lake Hillier’s salinity, as well as the few living organisms that reside in the lake. One of these is a pink bacteria called halobacteria. An extensive study by the Extreme Microbiome Project in 2016 found at least five prominent strains of halobacteria, as well as several other halophilic organisms. The bacteria is present in the salt crusts. Another living organism that explains Lake Hallier’s coloring is a red algae called Dunaliella salina. The algae creates a red dye and pinkens the water further.
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Lake Hillier is not the world’s only pink lake. In fact, for a long time, it was not even the only pink lake on Middle Island, and the nearby, unimaginatively named Pink Lake also shared the color. It was never as bright, however, and has not been pink at all for some 16 years and counting.
Most similar lakes change color as the temperature fluctuates, but Lake Hillier’s shade is preserved 365 days a year.