The pink waters of Kealia Pond in Hawaii – a natural wonder or a warning signal?

wody stawu Kealia

In 2023, Hawaii faced one of the toughest climate challenges in its history – an extreme drought that was one of the most severe and longest-lasting in the scenic archipelago. In the background of this severe weather anomaly, there was an astonishing phenomenon that quickly gained international attention – the waters of Kealia Pond on the island of Maui took on an unusual pink hue, resembling the color of bubble gum. This unusual phenomenon, first spotted on October 30, not only captivated observers, but also provoked numerous questions and speculation. The change in the color of Kealia Pond’s water, from the traditional blue to an intense pink, a phenomenon that is not only beautiful but also by no means disturbing, has opened a new chapter in the debate
about the complex and often unpredictable impacts of climate change on our planet.

Kealia Pond

Kealia Pond, located within the Kealia Pond National Nature Reserve on the island of Maui, represents exceptional natural beauty and significant ecological value. Founded in 1991. The reserve extends over an area of about 700 acres. They are one of the last surviving natural wetlands in Hawaii and a very important place for the protection of local flora and fauna. It also plays an invaluable role in maintaining the balance of the islands’ ecosystem.

Managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Kealia Pond’s main mission is to protect two endangered wetland-dwelling bird species – the Hawaiian coot and the Hawaiian stilt. The site also serves as a sanctuary for many migratory birds, arriving here from as far away as Alaska and Canada. Here they nest, feed and rest during the cold months. The waters of Kealia Pond are a natural catchment basin, extending over an area of 145km² and fed by waters from the mountains of West Maui.

waters of Kealia pond
The pink waters of Kealia Pond in Hawaii - a natural wonder or a warning signal? 1

Why did the waters of the Kealia pond turn pink?

Since October 30, the pink waters of Kealia Pond have been continuously monitored and studied. This unusual phenomenon raised legitimate concerns for the reserve’s manager, Bret Wolfe, who surmised that the cause could be a toxic algae bloom, an occurrence potentially dangerous to the pond’s environment. However, laboratory tests conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service quickly allayed these fears and showed that halobacteria are likely responsible for the pink coloration of the water. However, further DNA analysis is needed to definitively identify the exact strain of halobacteria.

These single-celled organisms, also known as extremophiles, are characterized by their ability to survive and thrive in environments with high salt concentrations, such as the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake. The results of the study showed that the current salinity of the water in the outlet area of Kealia Pond has reached twice the salinity typical of seawater. It is these extreme environmental conditions that may have created an ideal place for previously unseen organisms to thrive.

Effects of the Maui drought and its impact on the color change of Kealia Pond water

The Maui area, including the region around the reserve, is currently experiencing one of the most severe droughts
in recent decades. This drought, covering more than 90 percent of. County, has significantly affected local ecosystems, as evident in the change in the color of the water in Kealia Pond. The Waikapu Stream, which brings water to it from the mountains of West Maui, also flows through an area of extreme drought. A significant decrease in the supply of fresh, fresh water has contributed to an increase in salinity in the pond. This environmental change has created ideal conditions for the flourishing of halobacteria, which may be responsible for giving the water its pink color.

According to the US Drought Monitor, the entire island is affected by a severe drought. The area around the Kealia Pond Nature Preserve was identified as the second worst level on the monitoring scale. Bret Wolfe, the reserve’s manager, noted that the lack of rain and runoff from the Waikapu Stream into Kealia Pond has been an ongoing phenomenon for a long time. He hopes that future rainfall will cause the stream to flow back into the main area of the pond, and then into its now-pink drain, which could lower salinity
And restore the blue color of the water.

waters of Kealia pond
The pink waters of Kealia Pond in Hawaii - a natural wonder or a warning signal? 2

Could the pink waters of the Kealia pond be harmful?

Wolfe stressed that the pink waters of Kealia Pond do not appear to be harmful to the birds living in the reserve. Nevertheless, people should refrain from entering the pond and keep their pets out of the water, regardless of the color of the water. Kealia Pond authorities have decided to implement additional precautions, warning people not to enter the water or eat fish caught in the pond until the exact cause of the unusual phenomenon is determined.

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