A pond in Hawaii looks like something right out of a fairy tale. Water at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few coastal salt marshes on the island of Maui, has been bright pink since at least October 30, officials say, after its salt content surged amid an extreme drought.
Water samples sent to the University of Hawaii suggest that halobacteria is behind the pond’s new magenta hue, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Halobacteria are single-celled organisms that thrive in very salty water, like the Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea. The bacterium is considered a so-called extremophile because of its ability to live in such an extreme environment – in this case, one where the water salinity is twice that of seawater, Fish and Wildlife noted.
While Kealia literally means “salt encrustation,” the pond’s salinity has skyrocketed well beyond normal because of Maui’s extreme drought. The entire island is in severe or worse drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. The area where the Kealia Pond refuge is located is in what’s considered an extreme drought – the second-worst on the Drought Monitor’s scale.
The Waikapu Stream, which brings water from the West Maui Mountains down into the Kealia Pond, also flows through the area of extreme drought. Less freshwater input into the pond has driven the salt concentration up and provided a cozy haven for the brightly hued halobacteria.
Around 90% of Maui County, which includes other islands, is in at least severe drought – one that has grown even worse since a deadly wildfire ripped through Lahaina in August.
Scientists are still studying how the climate crisis will affect Hawaii, but overall there is confidence drought will get worse as global temperature increases – even in tropical areas such as this.