This pond in Hawaii has mysteriously turned bubblegum pink. Is drought to blame?

This pond in Hawaii has mysteriously turned bubblegum pink. Is drought to blame?

A pond in Hawaii has turned so bubble-gum pink it could be from the set of “Barbie,” but the bizarre phenomenon is no cause for a party.

Scientists are still trying to pin down the reason for the strange hue at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, but they say drought is likely to blame.

Staff at the Maui-based wildlife refuge have been monitoring the pink pond since 30 October.

Water samples tested at the University of Hawaii suggest that salt-loving bacteria is responsible for the vibrant colour, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

For the moment, authorities are warning against entering the water or drinking it.

Why has a pond in Hawaii turned bright pink?

The fairytale-like transformation of a pond at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge was first noticed in late October.

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

Wolfe was concerned the bright pink could be a sign of an algae bloom, but lab tests found toxic algae was not causing the colour. Instead, an organism called halobacteria might be the culprit.

Halobacteria are a type of archaea, or single-celled organism, that thrive in bodies of water with high levels of salt. The salinity inside the Kealia Pond outlet area is currently greater than 70 parts per thousand, which is twice the salinity of seawater.

Wolfe said the lab will need to conduct a DNA analysis to definitively identify the organism.

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

When it rains, the stream will flow into Kealia's main pond and then into the outlet area that's now pink. This will reduce the salinity and potentially change the water's colour.

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

No one at the refuge has seen the pond this colour before - not even volunteers who have worked around it for 70 years. It has been through periods of drought and high salinity before, though, and Wolfe isn't sure why the colour has changed now.

Hawaii’s pink pond draws curious visitors

Curious visitors have flocked to the park after photos of the pink pond appeared on social media.

“We prefer that they come to hear about our mission conserving native and endangered waterbirds and our wetland restorations. But no, they’re here to see the pink water," Wolfe joked.

He understands everyone's fascination, though. “If that’s what gets them there, it’s OK," he said. "It is neat.”

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

The water doesn't appear to be harming the birds, Wolfe said.

As a wildlife refuge, people aren't supposed to wade into the pond or let their pets in the water regardless of its colour.

But officials are taking extra precautions to warn people not to enter the water or eat any fish caught there because the source of the colour has yet to be identified.