The Pink Pond Phenomena at Kealia National Wildlife Refuge

Kealia Pond is over 700 acres of protected wetlands consisting of brackish water from both fresh water streams and ocean tides. The pond is a sediment basin, which receives fresh water collected at the nearby Waikapu watershed, fed by both the West Maui Mountains and a small portion from Haleakala. The North Kihei coastline along Kealia Beach feeds into the Kealia Pond.

The shallow water levels in the pond towards the ocean have recently experienced a strange phenomena. Scientists believe it could be an organism called halobacteria. They thrive in high levels of salt water, and since the beginning of November, turned the waters a very unusual pink, and magenta color. Currently the water salinity in the pond is twice that of seawater. Scientists are still studying and testing the water, but as a safety precaution, advise people not to go into this water, until the mystery surrounding this pink phenomena has been determined.

kealia wildlife refuge

The high tides bring in salt ocean water to infiltrate the fresh water pond. This leaves the pond with brackish water that is a haven for many birds, both native, and migratory birds. The Endangered Hawaiian Coots are home to the pond, and build their nest in the wet winter season where the water level rises for feeding and nesting, covering more than half of the refuge wetland. The Endangered Hawaiian Stilts build their nest in the spring to summers drier months, in the mudflats where they feed in waters 3 inches or less. Both thrive in the pond environment.

You can often see a variety of native waterbirds, and long distance visitors of shorebirds that travel from Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. They travel over 2000 miles across the ocean to winter in Hawaii, enjoying the Kealia Pond’s unique ecosystem to feed and rest.

This season of 2023 is especially dry with parts of Maui being in severe drought. The pond waters have evaporated over the last several months, leaving the Kealia pond at very low levels of water.

water at kealia pond

The Wildlife sanctuary monitors the waters and has recently pumped water into the basin closest to the water source. It keeps the birds active and feeding while waiting for the winter water levels to rise.

pink pond at kealia wildlife refuge on maui

The Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge is a multi faceted arrangement of sites that visitors are welcome to explore. The visitor center is located at milepost 6 along the Maui Veterans Highway. It is open Monday through Friday. Very knowledgeable staff is available to share valuable information, as well as great exhibits and handouts to help understand this unique ecosystem. You can also go to a viewing area by the Visitor Center where you can have grand views of the water source, and the many acres of the wetlands, and salt ponds.

The coastal boardwalk viewing area is another vantage point to see the pond, and the best place to view the pink pond. It is located on North Kihei Road where there is also public parking available. The parking area is open from 7 am-7 pm.

If you are a resident of Hawaii, and have yet to visit the Wildlife Sanctuary, take a moment and visit this unique natural wetland.

If you are a visitor to Maui, the closest accommodation to the Kealia Pond is at the Kealia Resort at 191 N. Kihei Rd.

condo lanai with ocean view on west maui

Kealia Resort is an oceanfront condominium, where the fronting beach will be a short walk to the Kealia pond. You will see fish, turtles, and natural tide pools along the way.

You can explore this Kealia Resort condo, for more information and availability, visit VRBO #3250393.

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Beth Thoma Robinson, R(B)

November 15, 2023

Thanks for writing about this important protected wetlands!

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