A body of salty water at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge on the Hawaiian island of Maui has gone bright pink, possibly due to a tiny organism, according to federal officials.
The pond at the refuge is currently twice as salty as seawater at 70 parts per thousand, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. The preliminary theory is that halobacteria, a single-celled organism that thrives in high-salinity environments, has bloomed and turned the water pink.
“I was shocked. It was like this Pepto Bismol-Barbie pink, vibrant color,” Travis Morrin, who caught aerial photographic footage of the pond, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
FWS staff have been monitoring the pink pond since Oct. 30. While halobacteria are not dangerous like the algae that cause the crimson tide, the agency is still warning people against going into or drinking the pond water while waiting to confirm the coloration’s cause.
The pond’s hue is unprecedented even for those who have volunteered at the refuge for 70 years, according to the Associated Press.
“It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’ve driven by here thousands of times and it’s the first time I’ve seen it pink,” island resident DJ Burton told KHNL-TV.
Refuge staff also pointed out that a stream normally flows into the pond has stopped due to a drought.
Conversely, rain could be the key to ending the pond’s pink period. With new water flowing in, the salinity would drop and the amount of halobacteria would decrease, lessening the amount of color in the water.
“That might be what makes it go away,” Bret Wolfe, the refuge manager, told AP.