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The Kid Should See This

Why does Australia have hundreds of bright pink lakes?

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In contrast to the ocean waters it sits by, Western Australia’s Lake Hillier is a very bold pink color. And it’s not the only pink lake in Australia. Why does the continent have so many bright bubblegum pink bodies of water?

In this episode of ABC Science‘s Weird Australia, host Moataz Hamde talks with microbiologist Dr. Ken McGrath, environmental scientist Tilo Massenbauer, and park ranger Marty Watts about two salt-loving organisms—a carotenoid-producing micro-algae called Dunaliella salina and a pinkish-red bacteria called Salinibacter ruber.

pink lake
McGrath’s Australian Genome Research Facility team found Salinibacter ruber present in Lake Hillier during a 2015 study. Via The University of Melbourne:

“The bacteria produces a pigment, called bacterioruberin, which helps the organism harvest light for energy. Bacteriorubin is spread across the entire bacterial cell that also contributes to the pink colour of the lake.”

Here’s a very cool video of Dr. McGrath and the XMP (eXtreme Microbiome Project) team during that Lake Hillier sampling trip. It showcases the lake’s salty beaches, as well as what it looks like under the pink water.


Massenbauer, who is part of a team working on returning Esperance’s Pink Lake to its former pink color, explains:

“The combination of our climate, hydrology, hydrogeology… Australia is a very old continent. Underneath those lakes sit saline water tables and with that drying climate and that stable hydrology for millions of years, the evolution has just occurred so it makes sense for these little algae or bacteria to protect themselves from the harsh ultraviolet light.”

The pink lake at Westgate Park
Watch this wordless flyover of Lake Hillier next.

Then watch these related videos:
•  San Francisco Bay’s colorful salt ponds
• The lesser flamingo swarms of Lake Bogoria
• How do baby flamingos become pink?
• An Alpine ibex defies gravity to lick salt
• Salt and Pepper, an Edible Histories introduction
• The Grand Prismatic Spring: One of Nature’s Most Amazing Sights

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