‘Senegal Pink Lake’

An April 29 2021 tweet (reading only “Senegal pink lake”) was popular on and off Twitter, for obvious reasons:

In addition to the three-word caption, the tweet included four images. Clockwise, they were:

  • A small boat adrift on nearly neon pink water, with a landmass far in the distance;
  • An aerial photograph of a similarly small boat in chalky, pink water (no land visible);
  • An aerial photograph of dark pink water to the left, and a shore road to the right, and;
  • A zoomed out aerial photograph of a pastel pink body of water, contrasted by both surrounding greenery as well as a larger deep blue body of water (like a river) to the right of the “pink lake.”

No information about the name of the “Senegal pink lake” was included, nor were any of the photographs attributed. Nevertheless, screenshots of the tweet circulated, and similar posts appeared on Reddit.

One such post to r/NatureIsFuckingLit on April 30 2021 was also titled “Senegal pink lake,” and it featured only the image on the top left of the tweet:

That image revealed a slightly unnatural pink cast to the sky. One account replied:

this is fake. the water is not bright pink like this. it’s very dark and only slightly pink.

Claims made in the comment tracked with a March 20 2015 YouTube video also titled “Senegal’s Pink Lake,” which provided a name for the site and featured footage of a lake with a far less dramatic hue:

Lake Retba (known as Pink Lake) becoming one of Senegal’s most popular tourist destinations and has been a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status since 2005, in Dakar on 20 March, 2015. The salt content of Lake Retba exceeding 40% salinity in some parts and it is a combination of the sun and a salt-loving micro-algae, dunaliella salina, which has turned the water a brilliant shade of strawberry pink.

A 2018 Alamy stock photograph matched the one highlighted in the Reddit post, describing the image as:

Boat in Lac Rose in Senegal on the West Coast of Africa – Image ID: B1MX3M

“Lac Rose” is French for Pink Lake; French is Senegal’s official language.  A September 2019 Atlas Obscura entry (“The ‘Dead Sea of Senegal’ Is a Shocking Shade of Pink”) included similarly muted images, and explained the lake was sometimes bright pink (and sometimes not):

At the height of the dry season, from January to March, when the midday sun blazes unforgivingly and strong winds blow in from the Atlantic, Lake Retba is at its most colorful: a beguiling sherbet pink. As weather patterns and times of day change, a glorious spectrum of shades emerges—from strawberry milkshake and Pepto-Bismol to coral, fuchsia, and an almost chocolate brown. The pigment even lends the waterside bushes of samphire, a plant-like vegetable that is typically green, an intense magenta hue.

A reverse image search on the photograph where a contrasting body of water appears indicated it was not in Senegal, but rather another highly salinated pink lake — Australia’s Lake Hillier. That saltiness, as with Lake Retba, is thought to be the reason for its unusual coloration — indirectly, at least:

The exact cause of Lake Hillier’s distinctive bubblegum or strawberry milkshake color is not known for sure. Most scientists do agree it has probably something to do with the presence of a specific species of microalgae – Dunaliella Salina.

These salt-loving photosynthetic microorganisms generate energy by using other parts of the visible light spectrum except in orange/red frequencies.

Dunaliella Salina is able to tolerate very high salt concentrations ranging from 0.2% to as much as 35%.

These little critters produce the carotenoid pigments, beta-carotene (which are also found in carrots), that are thought to give rise to the bubblegum coloration of the lake’s water.

The third image the series in appears to show a third pink lake still:

This image matches a featured image in an article about Dusty Rose Lake in British Columbia, Canada. We thought that was the end of it, until we saw the following disclaimer at the bottom of the article:

Disclaimer: The cover image in this article was used for illustrated purposes.

And a 2009 blog post claimed the water shown was in San Francisco.

That led us to the next logical question. Exactly how many pink lakes are in the world? Wikipedia maintains a page listing known pink lakes. There are at least ten, four of which are in Australia:

The tended to be represented by some of the images in the “Senegal pink lake” tweet interchangeably. For example, a 2018 listicle, “7 Pink Lakes In The World That Look Like They’re From Another Planet,” used the image of Lake Hillier to represent it as well as Lake Retba or Lac Rose in Senegal.

As for the overhead image of two boats in a pink lake, it was sometimes attributed as Lake Retba in Senegal, and other times as “the pink lake,” without specifying exactly which one, in Australia:

pink lake in senegal

A 2014 listicle by The Guardian said the image showed Lake Retba, but attributed the description to “weird news” source Barcroft Media. A profile of that source on Bloomberg asserted the organization “offers television programming, video streaming, image editing, and other services” as part of its operations.

Senegal’s “pink lake” is a frequent topic of social media posts, many of which spread in viral form from time to time. But attempts to validate the four images demonstrated that there are at least ten pink lakes in the world, images of which are often enhanced, tinted, or used interchangeably — sometimes even in the same listicle. Reporting specifically  about Lake Retba or Lac Rose described it as sometimes a vibrant shade of pink, but other times a “chocolate brown.” Other images in the set were linked to pink lakes in Australia and Canada, and some were so frequently pinned and tweeted that the original source was impossible to find. As such, we rate this claim Mixed.