An hour’s drive from Dakar City in Senegal takes you to one of nature’s marvellous wonders in the continent: the sight of conspicuous pink waters that make up Lake Retba, the only pink lake in Africa.
Popularly known as Lac Rose, Lake Retba’s pink waters are a wonder to visitors. The lake is salty and is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by dunes. The pink colour is as a result of Dunaliella Salina Bacteria – a type of algae – which thrives in the lake’s highly salty environment.
The bacteria produce a red pigment to enable it to absorb sunlight which turns to a pinkish hue when it comes into contact with water. Between November all through to June when it is relatively dry, the pink colour is deep but it lightens when the rainy season kicks in from July to October.
Due to its salty nature, the three square kilometre lake has no living organisms but is a rich salt extraction site and tourist spot. At its shores lie stacks of salt collected from the lake. Locals harvest the salt using shea butter and dig it up from the bottom of the lake and park it in baskets.
The salt is used as a preservative for fish but 70% of this extraction is exported to other West African countries. Ivory Coast has the biggest market for Lake Retba’s salt. Swimming in Lake Retba is a common affair despite the pink waters and presence of Dunaliella Salina Bacteria which is harmless to human beings.