Abundance of flesh-eating bacteria in the Ala Wai Canal could triple by end of century

Ask almost anyone about the Ala Wai Canal and this is their response: “It’s just disgusting, gross,” said Aaron Kia.
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 11:42 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 4, 2022 at 4:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Worrisome new research from the University of Hawaii found that flesh-eating bacteria is expected to get more prevalent in the Ala Wai Canal by the end of the century.

The study shows by 2100, climate change could enable the pathogen to spread ― polluting the waters at some of Oahu’s south shore beaches.

Nobody would be surprised that there’s lots of bacteria in the Ala Wai.

Ask almost anyone about the canal and this a typical response: “It’s just disgusting,” said Aaron Kia.

But worse than the smell, researchers say it’s also home to a rare bacteria known as vibrio vulnificus.

“It’s living there naturally so it’s not associated with any sewage pollution,” said researcher Jessica Bullington.

The deadly bacteria spreads in a variety of ways.

“If you’re swimming near the outflow region during a big rainstorm there’s a higher chance of getting an infection. Or if you have a cut or open wound,” Bullington said.

You can also get it by eating seafood harvested from contaminated water.

Now results from a year-long project conducted by students at the University of Hawaii found climate change will likely make the problem worse, potentially tripling bacteria levels by the end of the century.

The study showed rainfall had a significant impact in the abundance of the pathogen and transporting it to the nearby Ala Wai Boat Harbor.

Warmer temperatures create an environment where the bacteria thrives.

Right now, sensors are being used to continuously monitor water quality at the mouth of the Ala Wai Canal.

Bullington said she hopes the information can be used to better inform the public about what’s in the water.

“People need to know that might be a risk and I think that information is not present right now,” Bullington said.

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