Historical photos of the bubblegum pink water on Pink Lake capture what made the place famous. (Supplied: Merve Andre)
When tourists arrive in Esperance, they make a beeline for the Pink Lake the Western Australian south coast town is famous for.
They drive along Pink Lake Road past the Pink Lake laundromat.
Half way there, they clock the Pink Lake Butcher and many even stay in the Pink Lake caravan park.
But when they pull into the lookout, there’s a problem.
“It’s not pink!” local resident Chris Pope said.
“And that’s a bit of a common thought whenever people are rocking up to the lookout here.”
So loved was Esperance’s Pink Lake, businesses built their brands around it. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Christien de Garis)
The lifetime resident recently started a passionate debate in the community when he suggested in an online post that the town should consider changing the name of the lake.
At the lake lookout, passing tourists pull in, look up, look down at a map, look up again confused, then look around for a sign.
“We thought we’d check out Pink Lake and [it’s] not as pink as expected,” Mike, a tourist from Perth, said.
“Bit of a disappointment. We wondered if we were in the right spot.”
“Expecting a nice pink lake, heard awesome things about it, seen all the awesome photos on Instagram.”
Tourism leaders lobby for name change
Comments like these are concerning leaders in the local tourism industry.
It is common for visitors to get the lake confused with the stunning Lake Hillier on Middle Island, a six-hour boat ride away.
Pink Lake today is now white, causing confusion among visitors to the once-famous attraction. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Christien de Garis)
That bright pink lake has shot to international fame thanks to recent aerial photographs and video reaching millions of people online.
Tourism Esperance chairman Wayne Halliday said the organisation was lobbying the Western Australian Department of Lands to remove any reference to Pink Lake on official documents and replace it with the original name.
“We are currently seeking to have the Pink Lake, just the lake name, reverted back to its original gazetted name of Lake Spencer,” Mr Halliday said.
“We are continually fielding enquiries and confusion about the location of Pink Lake and Lake Hillier on Middle Island.”
For locals who are forced to look at their feet and offer mumbled explanations to perplexed visitors, a name change is long overdue.
“People rock up here expecting to see that bubblegum pink, and it is far from that, so absolutely we should refer back to its original name of Spencer Lake,” Mr Pope said.
Previous salt mining on Pink Lake altered the ecology of the natural system. (Supplied: Merve Andre)
Salt mining and roads blamed for colour change
Conservation experts believe the fate of Pink Lake was sealed years ago when a highway and rail line cut off the natural flow of water into the salt lake system.
Super saline conditions are needed to support the green algae that accumulates the beta-carotene pigment, the same pigment that colours carrots, which turned the lake pink.
“With the loss of the channel, these salts aren’t flushing through into Pink Lake, and as a result Pink Lake doesn’t turn pink any more,” State Government conservation officer Steven Butler said.
Salt mining on the lake, which has long since shut down, was also a factor.
Can the lake return to its former glory?
While lobbying for a name change, locals would prefer a return of their beloved Pink Lake and have not given up hope.
“We should be looking into the rehabilitation of it, to see if we can get it back pink,” Mr Pope said.
Nicole from Singapore said an explanation about what had happened would also help.
“I think we should talk about what happened to it, find out what happened to it, and tell people why it’s not pink anymore,” she said.
Steven Butler says the natural flow of water has reduced the salt level, but it could be fixed. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Christien de Garis)
Mr Butler said the solution may lie in engineering, and returning the natural flow of water and the essential salt to the lake.
“It would probably take a few years for the salt loads to accumulate, but I believe it could be done,” he said.
He conceded it would be expensive and require firm commitment from the community and government.
Still, enough hope remains for the Pink Lake supermarket to hold off calling in the sign writers just yet.