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Why Are Australia's Pink Lakes Pink?

Pink lake, Australia
The beautiful and very pink Lake Hillier, located on Middle Island, off the coast of western Australia. Wikimedia Commons (CC By-SA 4.0)

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Close your eyes and picture this. You're on vacation. The air is crisp, and the sun is shining. You're flying over a lush island off the western coast of Australia when you come across a lake as blue as, no, wait, as pink as ... the sky? Wait, something's not quite right here.

But it's true, there are some very photogenic (and very pink) lakes in Australia that look like something out of a cotton candy dreamworld. Perhaps the most famous and Instagram-worthy is Lake Hillier, which is located on Middle Island off the coast of western Australia. It makes for some pretty wild aerial views, especially when you contrast its pink hues with the turquoise bay just across from it.

So why are these lakes pink anyway? It's been a mystery for some years, but the puzzle's finally been cracked. Scientists found that pink bodies of water like Lake Hillier contain both Halobacteria and a type of algae known as Dunaliella salina, which thrive in salty environments like the pink lakes. The carotenoid red pigments secreted by Halobacteria and d. salina are responsible for the pink lakes' otherworldly colors. These same algae also flourish in the Dead Sea.

Head farther east to check out Murray-Sunset National Park in Victoria, which also boasts some picturesque views of its own four pink lakes and offers camping options as well. Bonus tip: If you're traveling to the park, bring your own water, since you can't drink the water there due to the salt content in the lakes. Unlike Lake Hillier, which is consistently pink year-round, the pink lakes at Murray-Sunset are best viewed around late summer when the water changes colors, varying from a deep pink to a pale salmon-like shade.

Lake Hillier is accessible mostly by air tours and boat cruises, but landing on Middle Island is a no-go. Although you theoretically could swim in a pink lake at Murray-Sunset National Park, it's not advisable due to the high percentage of salt in the water. Plus, the park's website asks that you leave the park as undisturbed as you found it, so it's best to leave your bathing suit at home to protect these natural wonders for generations to come.

You can find similarly bubble-gum-pink bodies of water around the world, from Lake Retba in Senegal to the Salinas de Torrevieja in Spain to Pekelmeer on the Caribbean island of Bonaire (you might also spot some equally pink flamingos on your visit to the last one). So what are you waiting for? But plan your trip carefully and don't be fooled by marketing schemes. The actual "Pink Lake" in the western Australian town of Esperance hasn't actually been pink for many years, having lost all its color and taken on a milky white hue, leading locals to petition for the lake to be renamed "Spencer Lake" as it was originally called.

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