Wildlife Refuge pond in Hawaii mysteriously turns bubblegum pink. Investigators have identified a likely perpetrator.

A pond in Hawaii has turned so bubblegum pink it could be from the set “Barbie,” but the bizarre phenomenon is no reason for a dance party. Drought may be to blame for the strange hue, scientists say, and they warn against walking in or drinking the water.

Staff at Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge on Maui have been monitoring the pink water since October 30.

“I just got a report from someone who was walking on the beach and they called me and said, ‘There’s something weird going on over here,'” said Bret Wolfe, the refuge manager.

Hawaii-Pink Dam
This Nov. 8, 2023 photo provided by Leslie Diamond shows the pond at Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Maui, Hawaii, turned pink on Oct. 30, 2023.

Leslie Diamond/AP

Wolfe was concerned that the bright pink could be a sign of an algal bloom, but lab tests determined that toxic algae did not cause the color. Instead, an organism called halobacteria may be the culprit.

Halobacteria are a type of archaea or single-celled organisms that thrive in bodies of water with high levels of salt. The salinity inside the Kealia Dam outlet area is currently greater than 70 parts per thousand, which is twice the salinity of seawater. Wolfe said the lab will need to perform a DNA analysis to definitively identify the organism.

Maui’s drought is likely contributing to the situation. Normally, the Waikapu Stream flows into Kealia Pond and raises the water level there, but Wolfe said that hasn’t happened in a long time.

When it rains, the creek will flow into Kealia’s main dam and then into the spillway area, which is now pink. This will reduce the salinity and potentially change the color of the water.

“That might be what makes it go away,” Wolfe said.

No one at the refuge has seen the pond this color before – not even volunteers who have been around it for 70 years. However, the pond has been through periods of drought and high salinity before, and Wolfe isn’t sure why the color has changed now.

Curious visitors have flocked to the park for pictures and video of the pink pond appeared on social media.

“We’d prefer they come to hear about our our mission to conserve native and endangered waterfowl and our wetlands. But no, they’re here to see the pink water,” Wolfe joked.

He understands everyone’s fascination.

“If that’s what gets them there, that’s okay,” he said. “It is pretty.”

Travis Morrin told Hawaii News Now that he learned about the color of the pond from some friends.

“They had heard that the water near Sugar Beach by the ponds was pink, and I thought, ‘I don’t believe it, it can’t be that pink,'” Morrin said. “Sure enough towards sunset the lighting was good, I just happened to drive by and I thought it’s like Pepto Bismol pink.”

The wildlife sanctuary is a wetland that provides nesting, feeding and resting habitat for the endangered Hawaiian stilt, known as aeo, and Hawaiian coot, or alae keokeo. It also hosts migratory birds in winter.

The water does not appear to harm the birds, Wolfe said.

As a wildlife refuge, people are not supposed to wade into the pond or let their pets go in the water regardless of its color. But officials are taking the extra precaution of warning people not to go into the water or eat fish caught there because the source of the color has yet to be identified.

Why water sometimes changes color

The pond in Hawaii is the latest example of water mysteriously changing color, although the causes have varied.

Last year, a study published in Geophysical Research Letters said climate change will likely cause blue lakes to become more green in color. And one study published this year revealed that the same trend is occurring in the world’s oceans.

In January, bright pink waves was seen crashing along the coast in San Diego. It turned out to be researchers releasing a non-toxic pink dye into a nearby estuary to learn more about how fresh water interacts with salt water near the coast.

In March, the city became Idaho Springs had a mysterious contaminant seep into their sewage, turning the water a bright shade of pink. It turned out to be 20 liters of concentrated pink dye.

Last year, Rocky Mountain National Park’s Lake Haiyaha suddenly changed colors into a stunning turquoise after a landslide pushed pulverized rock into the lake.

In 2017, residents of a Canadian city woke up one day to discover that their tap water had turned hot pink. Officials said it appeared a valve may have stuck, allowing potassium permanganate — a common chemical used in water treatment — to enter the sump reservoir and thereby into the city’s water distribution system. When dissolved in water, the chemical causes a pink tint.

In 2015, residents of several villages in northwestern Spain noticed that the water in their fountains had turned red. The color was caused by microscopic algae that arrived in a recent rainfall.

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