10 Naturally Pink Lakes

naturally pink lakes around the world illo

Treehugger / Lara Antal

It's easy to assume photographs of pink lakes are digitally edited, but there are a handful of real pink lakes around the world. Many of these bodies of water contain microorganisms that produce pink pigment when they interact with salt water, and almost all of them are saltier than the ocean.

Australia, North and South America, West Africa, and Eastern Europe are just a few of the places you may encounter a lake the color of bubble gum. Pink lakes are often major attractions, but they are not ideal for swimming due to their high salinity. Some are protected and off-limits to tourists.

Here are 10 pink lakes from around the world.

1
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Lake Hillier (Australia)

Lake Hillier in Western Australia

Yodaobione / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Lake Hillier is located on the coast of Western Australia's Middle Island. This relatively small lake has a distinctly pink hue year-round, and its water still appears pink when removed. Other pink hypersaline lakes tend to change color depending on the season and temperature.

The precise reasons for Hillier's permanent color remain somewhat of a mystery, but most scientists attribute it to a combination of algae and salt-loving halobacteria. Dunaliella salina can be found in high concentrations, and these algae are known to produce pink and orange pigment. Lake Hillier is a control site for research, so it can only be viewed by tourists from helicopters.

2
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Lac Rose (Senegal)

Lac Rose in Senegal

林戈亮 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Lac Rose or Lake Retba is on the edge of Senegal’s Cap-Vert Peninsula, about 25 miles outside of Dakar. Sand dunes separate its water from the Atlantic Ocean. This lake also contains D. salina, the algae that produce pinkish pigment, but its overall color changes from deep to light pink from season to season.

Due to Lac Rose's extreme salinity, locals harvest and process enormous quantities of salt here. Between 2,500 and 3,000 people are involved in collecting the salt and preparing it for distribution around the world. They cover their skin in shea butter to protect it from the salt.

3
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Las Coloradas (Mexico)

Photo: Walter Rodriguez/Wikimedia Commons

Las Coloradas in Yucatan, Mexico, are a collection of artificial pink lakes. These lakes were created by Mayans, who harvested salt from them in warm months when the water level was low, over 2,000 years ago. Today, these lakes produce an estimated 750,000 tons of salt every year for a company called the Grupo Industrial Roche.

These small lakes get their color from halophilic microorganisms that contain beta carotene, the vitamin that gives vegetables like carrots their color. Las Coloradas is outside a small fishing village in the middle of a large biosphere reserve called Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. People are strictly prohibited from swimming in this lake, which is salty enough to be toxic to humans.

4
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Las Salinas de Torrevieja (Spain)

Las Salinas de Torrevieja in Torrevieja, Spain

Alberto Casanova / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Located on Spain’s Mediterranean coast in the protected Parc Natural de Las Lagunas de La Mata y Torrevieja is a pink lake called Las Salinas de Torrevieja. This lake gets its color from the microalgae D. salina and halophiles. Las Salinas de Torrevieja is located between the sea and two saltwater lagoons, which helps to create a microclimate that is incredibly biodiverse.

The lake is not the only pink thing in Torrevieja. During migration season, flamingo flocks descend on the area. Other birds spend time here as well because of the high concentration of brine shrimp in the saltwater. The rare Audouin Gull, for example, has nested here for decades, showing some of the largest colonies in the world.

5
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Lake Masazir (Azerbaijan)

Lake Masazir in Baku, Azerbaijan

Ramin Hasanalizade / Getty Images

This magenta lake is a few miles outside of Baku, the cultural and economic hub of Azerbaijan. Like other saline lakes, Lake Masazir is the site of extreme salt farming. Workers extract the salt in small plots during warm seasons when the water evaporates and exposes salt deposits. One of the smaller water bodies on this list, Lake Masazir has an area of about 3.9 square miles.

Tourists either have to hire a car or take a city bus to the suburbs and walk the final mile or two to get to the lake from Baku. The pink color, again thought to be caused by the presence of pigment-producing bacteria, is at its brightest in warm weather.

6
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Lake Natron (Tanzania)

Flamingos in Lake Natron, Tanzania

Anup Shah / Getty Images

Lake Natron is located in the Arusha region of northern Tanzania. The same types of salt-loving microorganisms that color other saline lakes also turn Natron shades of pink and red, but this lake is more unique for its preserving properties. Nearby mineral springs feed large amounts of sodium carbonate into Lake Natron, which encapsulates and calcifies organisms that die there.

Though Natron is toxic to many species, including humans, it supports wildlife that can survive in hypersaline and hyperalkaline conditions. Flamingos are among the animals that thrive here. In fact, Lake Natron is a primary breeding site for the world's lesser flamingos, an estimated 75% of which are born here. These birds are pink because they feed on pigmented phytoplankton in large amounts.

7
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Hutt Lagoon (Australia)

Hutt Lagoon in Western Australia

Samuel Orchard / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Hutt Lagoon in Australia's Coral Coast is a pink lagoon fed by seawater and rainwater runoff. Separated from the Indian Ocean by only about half a mile, the depth of this lake fluctuates seasonally. In hot months, the water from Hutt Lagoon evaporates and the lake turns into a dry salt flat. During wet months, the lake reaches a depth of about three or four feet.

The color of Hutt Lagoon comes from algae that produce carotene. Commercial farming operations for both algae, including D. salina, and Artemia brine shrimp take place here and generate profit for the area. Hutt Lagoon is popular with tourists, especially those visiting the nearby town of Port Gregory to fish and scuba dive

8
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Laguna Colorada (Bolivia)

Laguna Colorada in Potosi, Bolivia

Paolo Campana / EyeEm / Getty Images

Laguna Colorada in Bolivia is usually more of a red or red-orange than pink, but its striking natural colors justify a place on this list. Algae and halophilic bacteria give this high-altitude, hypersaline lagoon its rusty color, which is contrasted by the whitish color of borax and mineral deposits.

This lake is found at an elevation of about 14,100 above sea level in the Andes Mountains, and its orange and white colors can often be seen clearly from outer space. Like other alkaline lakes, Laguna Colorada draws flamingos, including the endangered James’s flamingo, which flock to this remote location to feed on microorganisms. Andean and Chilean flamingos are also present in Laguna Colorada.

9
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Great Salt Lake (Utah)

Great Salt Lake in Utah

Scott Stringham / Getty Images

Utah’s Great Salt Lake is known both for its deep pink color and for being the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. This lake was created when an ancient body of water called Lake Bonneville partially dried up, leaving behind the much smaller (but still substantial) terminal lake known today as the Great Salt Lake.

The Great Salt Lake contains 4.5 to 4.9 billion tons of salt, making it between 5% and 27% saline. The southern part of the lake is the least salty portion, and it hosts large colonies of brine shrimp. The northern part of the lake is home to hardy halophilic microorganisms living in extremely high salinity.

10
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Lake Koyashskoe (Crimea)

Lake Koyashskoe in Kerch, Crimea

yykkaa / Getty Images

Lake Koyashskoe, sometimes spelled Lake Koyashskoye, is located on the Crimean Peninsula in the Opuksky Nature Reserve. This lake covers just under two square miles. The water here ranges from pink to red depending on the season, appearing pink in the spring and red in the summer. Like many salt lakes, Lake Koyashskoe owes its pink color to halobacteria.

When the weather gets hot, the water evaporates and salt crystals form on rocks. Once the site of a mud volcano, the bottom of this lake is rich in minerals, including iodine, potassium, boron, and gold as well as organic matter including crustaceans.

View Article Sources
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  5. Tebbs, E.J., et al. "Remote Sensing the Hydrological Variability of Tanzania's Lake Natron, A Vital Lesser Flamingo Breeding Site Under Threat." Ecohydrology & Hydrobiology, vol. 13, no. 2, 2013, pp. 148-158, doi:10.1016/j.ecohyd.2013.02.002

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