Officials expect thousands of fish to die after a leak in Honolulu's molasses pipeline dumped more than 233,000 gallons of the sugary substance into the city's harbor on Monday. The spill has already killed hundreds of fish and other marine life in the harbor, and environmental experts predict it will soon spread to nearby reefs.
"This is the worst environmental damage to sea life that I have come across, and its fair to say this is a biggie, if not the biggest that we've had to confront in the state of Hawaii," Gary Gill, the deputy director for the Environmental Health Division of the Health Department, told Hawaii News Now.
The molasses seeped into the harbor as some 1,600 tons of the syrup was being transferred into cargo ships headed for California. The leak was quickly repaired, according to the ships' owners, Matson Navigation, but the damage had already been done.
"Everything down there is dead." said Roger White, a scuba diver hired by HNN to film the harbor's floor. "Small fish, crabs, mole crabs, eels. Every type of fish that you don't usually see, but now they're dead. Now they're just laying there. Every single thing is dead. We're talking in the hundreds, thousands. I didn't see one single living thing underwater."
The spill is expected to dissipate in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, authorities are warning residents to keep their distance. "While molasses is not harmful to the public directly, the substance is polluting the water, causing fish to die and could lead to an increase in predator species such as sharks, barracuda and eels," the Hawaii Department of Health said in a statement.
And Dr. David Field, an assistant professor of marine sciences at Hawaii Pacific University, told HNN the effects of the spill will likely cause damage for years to come.
"As water does leave this bay area and goes out into the neighboring ocean, we can expect the effects in the long term, in days, weeks, months and probably years, to spread out over some of the South Shore reefs," he said.