Lonely Planet Writer

The mystery of Australia's bright bubblegum pink lakes has been solved

The striking sight of one of Melbourne’s lakes going pink was all over social media last week but authorities say the sight isn’t as unusual as you might think.

Salt lake and algae ponds, Hutt Lagoon near Gregory, Western Australia.
Salt lake and algae ponds, Hutt Lagoon near Gregory, Western Australia. Image by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

The salt lake in the middle of Westgate Park turned bright pink last week and, despite its seemingly unnatural hue, it’s an entirely natural phenomenon. The colour is in response to unusually high salt levels, caused by high temperatures, sunlight and dry weather.

The algae lying in the bottom of the lake responds to the high salt levels by producing a red pigment called beta carotene during its photosynthesis process. While it’s regarded as safe, people are still discouraged from swimming there due to the high levels of salt, which would sting your eyes and crystallise there.

Melbourne's Westgate Park is just one of Australia's pink lakes.
Melbourne’s Westgate Park. Image by Parks Victoria

The lake could remain pink all the way up to June, when Australia’s winter weather starts to kick in and the temperature drops. While Melbourne’s pink lake has attracted a huge amount of attention due to being in one of Australia’s most populated cities, it’s certainly not the only one in the country.

Victoria’s Pink Lakes are a huge visitor attraction in the Murray-Sunset National Park and visitors can camp nearby. Western Australia also boasts at least two pink lakes; Lake Hillier in the Recherche Archipelago and another near Esperance town.

A town in Canada also recently made headlines due to bright pink water, but the reason was a lot less natural. Residents in the small town of Onoway, Alberta recorded bright pink water coming from the taps. It’s understood the problem was caused by potassium permanganate, a chemical used in the water treating process to remove iron and hydrogen sulfide. The chemical is safe and no harm was caused to any of the residents.

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