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The Fascinating Mystery Behind the Pink Lakes of Australia

March 8, 2022    7 min read

When we think of a water body, we generally associate it with the colour blue, right? But what if we told you that there are some lakes in the world which are pink in colour! That’s right, pink lakes exist! Most of the world’s pink lakes exist in Australia, their shades ranging from bright pink to a muted salmon tone.

Lake Hillier, one of Australia's most famous pink lakes, is located on Middle Island, off the southern coast of Western Australia. It is about 600 meters (2,000 feet) long and 250 meters (820 feet) wide. A sand rim and a dense woodland of paperbark and eucalyptus trees surround the lake. A thin stretch of sand dunes covered in vegetation separates its northern edge from Middle Island's northern coast. The lake's most remarkable feature is its vivid pink color.

Australia houses a few other pink lakes too, apart from Lake Hillier. Port Gregory is a picturesque fishing village surrounded by a 5-kilometer stretch of exposed coral reef. Around the mouth of the Hutt River, which is a popular tourist spot, Hutt Lagoon is a 70-square-kilometer lagoon located just metres from the hamlet, with most of the lagoon lying a few metres below sea level. A beach barrier ridge and barrier dune system separate it from the Indian Ocean.

Hutt Lagoon, known for being the location for Australia’s various fashion shoots boasts higher than Lake Hillier with its hues changing through the spectrum of red to bubblegum pink to lilac-purple, depending on the time of day, season (time of year), and amount of cloud cover. 

Source: Shutterstock

Are you curious to know the reason behind the bright bubblegum pink hue of Lake Hillier?

In 2015, a group of researchers from the Extreme Microbiome Project (XMP) part of the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF), Metagenomics Research Group (MGRG) decided to explore the mysterious pink tint of the lake. People previously assumed that the hue was caused by the high salt concentration or microalgae in the lake. The XMP researchers' aim was to investigate and find out what it was for sure since they believed that extremophile bacteria - microorganisms that live in extreme temperature, acidity, alkalinity, or chemical concentration, that thrived in Lake Hillier's harsh, salty environment were responsible for the pink hue. They took water samples and used DNA analysis to analyze what they found. The brilliant colour remained constant even when the water was transferred into a container and taken into labs for testing.

They discovered ten salt-loving bacterium species and numerous Dunaliella algae species, all of which have a pink or red pigmentation. While all of these are plausible explanations, they discovered something much more astounding. Salinibacter ruber, a single bacterium, was evidenced to be responsible for 33% of the DNA gathered. Scientists believe that this bacterium, not microalgae, is the cause of the lovely pink colour.

Source: Shutterstock

Isn’t it amazing how curiosity can lead to amazing discoveries, like that of the Dunaliella algae species that make the pink lakes of Australia pink! You too can give your curiosity wings by learning science with amazing features like 3D videos and interactive simulations on Practically. Download the app now!

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