233,000 gallons of molasses spills into Honolulu Harbor causing fish kill

RAW: Molasses spill kills thousands of fish
Published: Sep. 10, 2013 at 5:23 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 12, 2013 at 10:53 AM HST
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Image: Carroll Cox
Image: Carroll Cox

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A massive molasses spill at Honolulu Harbor that Hawaii News Now first reported on Monday is killing fish and the State has no way to clean up the sticky substance.

The culprit was a faulty pipe that discharged 233 thousand gallons of molasses, or 1400 tons from a 16-hundred ton load meant for a California-bound Matson container ship.

24 hours after the massive spill, dead fish are popping up near Keehi Lagoon.

Boater Lexi Ray told us, "I've already seen tons and tons of the dead fish floating around."

Ray scooped a distressed eel out of the water with the bucket to save it, but the damage was done.

According to Gary Gill of the Department of Health, "There may be thousands of fish that have died from this spill so far."

We first spotted distressed fish near Pier 41 yesterday crowding the shore, gasping for air.

Reef biologist Dave Gulko from the Department of Land and Natural Resources explained what's happening. "We're seeing thousands of them. A lot of fish that are in that very stressed situation in very shallow water. We're seeing reef fish you'd never see. Butterfly fish, eels, etc... all right up next to the shoreline."

We did an experiment to see why molasses is so hazardous to fish. When we poured store bought Molasses into a vase of water we collected from Keehi Lagoon, the concentrated sugary substance went straight to the bottom.

Unlike an oil spill, which can be cleaned by skimming the surface, the molasses quickly disperses to the deepest points. "It's sucking up all the oxygen" explained Gulko. "There's no oxygen at depth so the animals that need it can't get it and are suffocating."

Matson refused our request for an interview, and instead released this statement.

"Matson regrets that the incident impacted many harbor users as well as wildlife. We are taking steps to ensure this situation does not happen again.

The health department will continue to sample the water, and in the meantime, warns people to stay out near Keehi Lagoon.

Gill explained that "While molasses isn't a pollutant that can harm people directly, it is killing the fish and that can cause an increase in sharks and barracuda and eels and that can be a harm to the public."

Matson could have to pay up to 25-thousand dollars a day for discharging a pollutant and violating the Clean Water Act.

The DLNR is advising the public to stay out of the ocean in Keehi Lagoon due to the amount of dead sealife they've been finding after the molasses spill. The State Department of Health says only waters in and around Keehi Lagoon are affected.

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