10 Naturally Pink Lakes

Pink lake amid a lush, green landscape
Photo: Aussie OC/Wikimedia Commons

It might be easy to dismiss pictures of pink lakes as Photoshopped. Plenty of them are, we're sure, but a handful of bubble gum-colored lakes around the world don't get their hue from a filter. The color is usually the result of microorganisms interacting with salt water. In fact, almost all of the world’s pink lakes are saltier than the ocean.

Where are these bodies of water? Australia has an impressive collection, but the unusual lakes are also located in South America, West Africa, Eastern Europe and Mexico. Some of these places are protected, others are very remote. Pink lakes have proven to be major attractions, though the salty water makes them not the best option for a cooling summertime swim.

Here are several examples of the unique phenomenon of pink lakes.

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Lake Koyashskoe, Ukraine

Photo: Svetlana Lukienko/Shutterstock

Lake Koyashskoe, sometimes spelled Lake Koyashskoye, is on the Crimean Peninsula. The water here ranges from pink to red depending on the season. In springtime, the pink color is evident, and summer usually brings a darker, deeper hue. Koyashskoe is popular with locals and not well known to tourists, especially because travel warnings have been issued in recent years for this part of the eastern Ukraine.

Why is Koyashskoe pink? Like many salt lakes, this one is filled with halobacteria, a microorganism that secretes a pink-colored protein when absorbing energy from the sun. Some also attribute the color to brine shrimp, which thrive in the saline environment. By late summer, you might not see much of Lake Koyashskoe at all because the water evaporates, leaving behind heaps of salt along the lake bed.

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Lake Hillier, Australia

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Lake Hillier is located on Middle Island off the southern coast of Western Australia. From above, it has a bubble-gum pink hue. This color remains even in water that has been scooped out of the lake. Hillier is surrounded by a eucalyptus forest, so the green foliage makes the water stand out even more.

Most people believe the deep color of Hillier comes from a combination of algae and salt-loving halobacteria. However, there's a bit of mystery to Hillier. Other pink saline lakes change color depending on the season, the angle of the sun or air temperature. Hillier remains the same shade of pink for the whole year. Unfortunately, tourists are not allowed on the island, so they have to admire the lake from the air.

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Lake Retba, Senegal

Photo: Anthea Spivey/Wikimedia Commons

Lake Retba is on the edge of Senegal’s Cap Vert Peninsula. Sand dunes separate its water from the Atlantic. Retba is best known in the rest of the world as the former finishing point for the famous Paris-to-Dakar Rally. Called Lac Rose by locals, the water has a salt content that's sometimes compared to the Dead Sea. The pink hue is attributed to a microalgae known as Dunaliella salina.

The main industry here is salt collection. About 1,000 workers harvest 24,000 tons of salt from the lake annually. They cover their skin in shea butter to avoid the drying effects of the salt. Retba is easy to visit because it's only 25 miles outside of Dakar, the capital and economic hub of Senegal.

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Las Coloradas, Mexico

Photo: Walter Rodriguez/Wikimedia Commons

Las Coloradas is a three-hour drive from the tourist haven of Playa del Carmen. In the middle of a large biosphere reserve, the pink ponds here get their color from microorganisms that contain beta carotene, the vitamin-A precursor that gives vegetables like carrots their color.

The bodies of water lie in a remote section of the Yucatan Peninsula. The drive from the nearest tourist hub passes miles and miles of empty beaches. Las Coloradas is outside of a small fishing village that shares its name. There's also a salt factory nearby. Travel magazine Afar advises tourists visiting this region in the winter and early spring to be on the lookout for large migrating birds such as flamingos and pelicans.

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Las Salinas de Torrevieja, Spain

Photo: Alberto Casanova/flickr

Located on Spain’s Mediterranean coast in the Valencian Community, Torrevieja is a city of about 100,000 people. It is sandwiched between the sea and two saltwater lakes, which helps to create a microclimate that makes this one of the most pleasant spots in a region that is known for its pleasant spots. The pink waters here are thought to have health benefits and people claim improvement in their skin and lung conditions after a soak in Las Salinas.

The lakes of Las Salinas are not the only pink-colored thing in Torrevieja. During migration season, flamingo flocks descend on the area. They, along with other migrating birds, spend time here because of the high concentration of brine shrimp in the saltwater.

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Masazir Lake, Azerbaijan

Photo: K.Tapdıqova/Wikimedia Commons

Despite its unique hue, this lake is not on the tourist map even though it is only a few miles outside of Baku, the cultural and economic hub of Azerbaijan. Tourists either have to hire a car or take a city bus to the suburbs and walk the final mile or two to the lake. The pink color is at its brightest in warmer weather.

Like other saline lakes, Masazir is the site of intense salt farming. Workers extract the salt in small plots. This salt industry is centered on a town, which shares its name with the lake.

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Lake Natron, Tanzania

Photo: NASA

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. The lake is best known for something else, however. Nearby mineral springs feed it with high amounts of sodium carbonate, which has a preserving effect on animals that happen to die there. Pictures of mummified birds made the rounds on the internet a few years ago, giving this place an ominous image that it perhaps does not deserve.

Though Natron has high amounts of alkaline, it does support wildlife, such as flamingos. The water is actually ideal for spirulina, a microorganism that the long-legged birds feed on. In fact, the high level of spirulina that these flamingos ingest is the main reason for their pink color. As a bonus for the birds, the alkaline in the water keeps predators away.

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Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Though it may be described as a “pink” lake, Laguna Colorada, or Red Lake, is often characterized as “red” or “red-orange.” Salt-loving algae and bacteria help to create this color, but sediments from the nearby rocks also affect the water’s appearance.

Like some of the other pink salt lakes, this one draws flamingos. Much rarer than other flamingo species, the endangered James’s flamingo comes to the higher altitudes of the Andes Mountains to feed on microorganisms. Andean and Chilean flamingos are also present in Laguna Colorada. Minerals create other colorful lakes on the Bolivian high plains. For example, Laguna Verde, Green Lake, boasts water with a deep emerald color.

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Hutt Lagoon, Australia

Photo: Samuel Orchard/Wikimedia Commons

Hutt Lagoon is one of several notable pink lakes in Australia. Scientists think that it was once part of the estuary of the Hutt River, but it is now separated from the waterway and fed by saltwater seeping up from the ground. It is also fed by rainwater runoff. Evaporation can become intense during the hot Western Australia summertime. A majority of the lake can turn into a dry salt flat during this time. Even during the wetter periods of the year, the lake reaches only about three or four feet in depth.

The pink color comes from carotene-producing algae. Like other saline lakes, Hutt Lagoon has a large population of brine shrimp. In fact, it is the site of commercial farming operations for both algae and brine shrimp (used in the aquarium and fish farming industries).

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Great Salt Lake, Utah

Photo: Eric Broder Van Dyke/Shutterstock

Utah’s Great Salt Lake is not known as a “pink lake.” However, because its salinity is up to 10 times that of the ocean, it provides ideal conditions for halophilic microorganisms and their bright colors. The lake’s salinity level varies. In the south, it is less salty, and perhaps best known for its large brine shrimp (which are sometimes sold in the aquarium trade as “sea monkeys”).

In the northern section of the lake, however, the higher salt levels mean that only hardy microorganisms can survive. Scientists think that some of these creatures can attach themselves to salt crystals and go into hibernation for years before awakening.