In the northeast of Dakar, Lake Retba is around 30 kilometers away. It is renowned as “Lac Rose”, which means “Pink Lake”, due to its pigmentation caused by the presence of an algae called Dunaliella Salina. This lake is well recognized for being one of the saltiest lakes in the world, having a salinity of about 40%.
Lake Retba was originally a freshwater lake until an extreme drought in the 1980’s changed the water’s composition and allowed people to extract salt from it. It takes a lot of work to extract the salt, and men typically do it. They swim out and use long poles to break up the salt crust on the lake’s floor after smearing themselves in shea butter to protect their skin from the corrosive water. The salt is then dug up with shovels or manually removed by diving to the bottom. On a pirogue (a traditional Senegal boat) – the harvested salt is transported back to the shore, where women wait to carry it into drying heaps by the lake. Each salt collector marks their drying piles and bags with their own initials. These items weigh around 25kg each and sell for 700 CFA francs, depending on the current market value. The salt needs to be iodized first before consumption. Traditional Senegalese fishermen use pink lake salt to preserve their catch, but it is also exported to other close-by African nations like the Gambia, Benin, Guinea, and Mali, which makes Senegal the number one producer of salt in Africa.
However, with harvesting reaching roughly 40,000 to 50,000 tons annually, the biodiversity of this distinctive environment is under an enormous threat. In order to protect the ecosystem of the lake, the villagers and local government would like to enforce a pause in the production of salt to prevent an over-exploitation of the lake.
Meanwhile, Lac Rose is also famous for the alluring beauty of its waters, which makes tourists visit Senegal. The ochre hue changes, ranging from a light purple to a deep crimson pink, depending on the time of the day. The salt-loving algae create the strawberry color, and it is most noticeable during the dry season. They generate a crimson pigment that turns the water pink by absorbing and harnessing the energy of sunlight.
This indicates that the lake only appears pink in a few (rare) situations. Most people never get to see the lake at its most pink because these conditions are uncommon. The dry season (from November to May) is when the color is most noticeable, while the wet season is when it is least evident (June to October).
The lake’s water is more salinized than the Dead Sea, with a salinity of roughly 40%. As a result, swimming in these waters is nearly impossible. People can only manage to float at most. In addition, to make sure you won’t spend the rest of the day with all the salt on your skin after the floating (that is merely uncomfortable and itchy; it’s not harmful), there is also a source of fresh water close to the souvenir stalls near Lake Retba. This is perfect for taking a short shower after the visit.
The only pink lake in Africa is Lake Retba, or Lac Rose, which is close to the country’s capital – Dakar. It is a top tourist destination, and thousands of people in Senegal and West Africa rely on the salt that is extracted from its bed to support the local economy. By digging and selling salts to the local market helps the family’s daily necessities to be met on a day-to-day basis. Furthermore, Lake Retba’s unique characteristic in its color made it known worldwide, which also aids numerous families selling souvenirs to the tourists that are visiting the Lac Rose.