Think Pink: Hawaiian Refuge Pond Turns Barbie's Favorite Color

Nov 20, 2023

Thought Question: Have you ever seen a natural phenomenon that surprised or amazed you? What was it, and how did it make you feel? 

If Barbie wanted the perfect spot for a photo shoot, there likely isn’t a more dazzling site right now than the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. It's on the Hawaiian island of Maui. And the water there has turned pink.

Further, it’s not merely pink. But a bright bubble gummy shade. At times, it's even a flirty fuchsia. It's also vibrant, glitzy, and much more than enough for Mattel's iconic doll.

Yes, the effect is cool. But the reason it’s observed might not be. Scientists believe drought is spiking salt levels in the water. They also believe this is giving rise to a habitat in which “halobacteria” can thrive. Halobacteria are single-cell organisms with reddish pigments. Halobacteria flourish in very salty conditions. Due to this, they can change the color of the water.

At present, the salinity of Kealia Pond is higher than 70 parts per thousand. This renders it twice as salty as seawater. And it could make the water unsafe. Refuge staffers are warning people not to swim, drink, or eat fish caught there. The University of Hawaii is also now testing samples to learn more about the halobacteria levels in the water.

Long-time residents are amazed by the effect, despite what’s causing it.

“It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” one resident, DJ Burton, told Hawaii News Now. “I’ve driven by here thousands of times and it’s the first time I’ve seen it pink.”

Refuge staffers say they’re seeing a bump in attendance because of it.

“We prefer that they come to hear about our mission conserving native and endangered waterbirds and our wetland restorations,” a refuge manager told The Associated Press. “But no, they’re here to see the pink water.”

Photo from Instagram courtesy of @hawaiinewsnow.

What is the author’s purpose for writing the story? (Common Core RI.5.6; RI.6.6)
a. to describe the scientific reasons behind the pink water in Kealia Pond
b. to warn people about the potential danger of swimming in pink-colored water
c. to persuade readers to visit the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
d. to inform readers about a fascinating natural phenomenon happening in Maui
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