The magical mysteries of the natural world repeatedly leave us lost for words as a result of their raw beauty, but something on another level of wild has been brought to light in Mexico — a pink lagoon.

Perhaps the prettiest body of water you've ever seen, it adorns Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula on the east coast of the country, in Los Colorados. While certainly stunning and more than Instagram-worthy, it left us wondering what, exactly, causes its waters to be pink.

Put simply, there are three components to the science behind the lagoon: salt, sun and marine microorganisms. Once a busy salt mining town, Los Colorados is home to numerous salt mountains which bleed into the lagoon, significantly raising the salt levels in the water. Once the salinity rises higher than that of sea water (more than 35 grams of salt to 1000 grams of water) and the warmth from the sun increases, the water begins to evaporate, increasing the concentration of microorganisms left in the lagoon.

These organisms, known as Dunaliella Salina (a type of halophile green micro-algae), react by accumulating the red pigment known as beta carotene, which protects them from the effects of solar ultraviolet radiation. Having evolved to contain more than 8% of its body mass to be beta carotene (an impressive amount that tops any other organism), it is produced in response to the UV stress of the lagoon’s rising temperature.

Not surprisingly, this lagoon is not the only body of water where the phenomenon occurs. Other warm waters surrounded by a high salt concentration have a similar reaction, such as Koyashskoye Salt Lake in Crimea, or Pink Lake in Western Australia. What may be unexpected, however, is that the chain does not end here. Flamingos, which flock to the lakes for the abundant food supply of these algae (and often brine shrimp as well) have these same microorganisms to thank for their color. Yes, believe it or not, the same beta carotene pigment is the cause of their pretty pink aesthetic, too. Apparently you really are what you eat.


*Featured Image Credit: Walter Rodriguez via Flickr / CC BY 2.0