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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
One month after 233,000 gallons
of molasses spilled into Honolulu Harbor, researchers have learned a little
more about its impact on the coral and underwater ecosystem, but studies are
ongoing to determine the full scope of damage.
"We know that there's
significant numbers of dead coral down there," said Frazer McGilvray, the administrator
for the Division of Aquatic Resources.
Experts say the extent of
the damage and the potential for recovery after the molasses spill appears
dependent on the coral ecosystem.
"What we've seen is
substantial injuries to corals of various species below the water," McGilvray
Officials with the Department of Land and Natural
Resources, who are heading the assessment phase, have identified a key
species of coral they're using as an indicator of damage, but say it's too
early to know the full scope.
DLNR has partnered with
researchers at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory for answers.
"The lace corals have been almost
completely killed off and when we saw them initially they were bleaching. The follow-up studies show that all the ones
that bleached did eventually die, so we're talking about hundreds of coral
colonies at minimum," described Bob Richmond, a
Research Professor at the University of Hawaii's Kewalo Marine Lab.
Richmond says samples
indicate the water quality of the Harbor has returned to its pre-spill
environment, but he cautions that coral health and resurgence are critically
dependent on conditions of the ocean floor as well.
More than 26,000 fish were
killed in the aftermath of the Matson molasses spill. Without them, marine biologists say the ocean
floor is quickly being taken over by fleshy algae – making it impossible for
the next generation of coral to settle.
"Corals and coral reefs are a
very big part of the local culture, of our local environment – and when we lose
them we lose economic, cultural and ecological value," said Richmond.
Scientists just finished a two week
experiment in which they exposed coral to various levels of concentrated
molasses to determine what amount kills them off and what renders them
incapable of functioning. The statistics
will help officials create new policies and response plans for the otherwise un-regulated
"There's no question about it – substantial
resources that are important to the people of Hawai'i and the world were lost
as a result of this," Richmond explained.
DLNR diving teams will
continue to monitor both Honolulu Harbor and Ke'ehi Lagoon, but just how long
the assessment phase lasts will depend on what they find.