All over the world, microorganisms have fun re-colouring landscapes. Discover breathtaking dreamlike panoramas and harmonies of colour as beautiful as the work of the greatest artists…
The Brick Red of Lake Natron (Tanzania)
Somewhere along the border between Tanzania and Kenya lies a mysterious stretch of terra cotta-coloured water.
The salinity, alkalinity and temperature (up to 60 °C!) make Lake Natron a somewhat hostile environment. However, among the residents of this unusual ecosystem are spectacular colonies of dwarf flamingos. Can you imagine the sight?
And when water levels drop, Lake Natron reveals spooky stone statues: the remains of birds and bats who, when attempting to bathe, were literally – and instantly – petrified.
It is microorganisms, such as cyanobacteria and spirulina (a type of micro-algae known for its nutritional properties), which give Lake Natron its unique color.
The Antique Pink of Lake Hillier (Middle Island, Australia,)
A surface of elegant rosewood, notched by small waves, and delicately hemmed with a fine lace of white salt. The authors of this beautiful artwork are anonymous … Well, not quite: scientists believe that the amazing colour comes from the presence of micro-algae (Dunaliella salina) and bacteria (Haloarchaea), as is the case for other colourful lakes in the area…
The Emerald Green of Verdon (France)
The Verdon Regional Natural Park is a paradise for lovers of water sports: canyoning, canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling, rafting, hydro speeding, white water swimming… To welcome them, the charming Verdon waters drape themselves in a brilliant emerald that creates a truly idyllic landscape.
This exotic hue is the result of the presence of fluorine and microalgae in Verdon’s pure waters.
The Ochre of Laguna Colorada (Bolivia)
Located south of Bolivia on the Altiplano, Laguna Colorada offers a show of breathtaking beauty at an altitude of almost 4300 meters. The water seems to have coloured itself to match and blend into the landscape.
This is a refuge for many species of birds, such as the Lesser Rhea, which is in great danger of extinction, and some rare species of flamingos. And, as the song goes, there are also some debonair llamas and some not-so-mean carnivores, named pampas cats. Depending on sunlight levels and weather conditions, the lake changes colour: orange, cinnamon brown, deep red…
The secret of the colour palette of Laguna Colorado? Sediments and specific microorganisms.
The Candy Pink of Lake Retba (Senegal)
Who poured so much pink dye into Lake Retba that it is known as the “pink lake”? The ‘dye’ actually consists of cyanobacteria, microscopic organisms. The salinity level is so high (about 400 g per litre!(1)) that these micro-artists have developed a survival strategy which causes them to release pink pigments … And they have fun: as salt concentrations vary with the weather – and possibly depending on their mood … – they sometimes repaint the lake pink, sometimes pale pink, and sometimes purple …
Vaadhoo Beach by Night (Maldives)
On Vaadhoo beach at night there’s no need to take a flashlight along for a romantic walk by the sea as nano-aquatic fireflies phytoplankton light up the shore in a myriad of small blue dots.
How does it work? The phytoplankton contain microorganisms of the genus noctiluca which use bioluminescence(2) as a defense mechanism to ward off approaching predators. At night, a wave or a marine current can cause a reaction with oxygen that causes them to become illuminated.
A similar phenomenon occurred in the Bay of Laguna Grande (Puerto Rico) and San Diego in 2011: waves bathed in blue light swept over the coast … Magic.
Microorganisms in general, and bacteria in particular, receive a lot of bad press. All because of a few dozen pathogenic species among the thousands that exist! Or, if you are an HTS’ Mag reader, you already know that “friendly bacteria” do good work for us everyday and are essential to our survival (3).
Today we discover their artistic talents. Hats off to the micro-artists!
(1) Source: Wikipedia
(2) Bioluminescence is the ability of a living being (animal – such as firefly and jellyfish -, mushroom, and microorganisms,) to produce light through a chemical reaction between a protein, luciferin and an enzyme, luciferase. To learn more about bioluminescence: Read the article “Living light”
(3) (Re) read the articles: