Developing: Honolulu Harbor Molasses Spill Deadly for Fish, Marine Life (UPDATE)

Orangespine Unicornfish, Hawaii (Flickr's Bemep)
Orangespine Unicornfish, Hawaii (Flickr’s Bemep)
UPDATE 9/13: Cleanup is being slowed because neither the company transporting the molasses nor the state had any spill response plan, reports the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

When we think of spills menacing wildlife, oil comes to mind first. But in Hawaii right now, it’s a molasses spill that’s killing fish:

Thousands of fish are expected to die in Honolulu waters after a leaky pipe caused 233,000 gallons of molasses — enough to fill seven railroad cars — to ooze into the harbor and kill marine life, state officials said.

Hundreds of fish have been collected so far, the state Department of Health said in a statement Wednesday. Many more fish are expected to die and thousands will likely be collected, it said.

The fish are dying because the high concentration of molasses is making it difficult for them to breathe, said department spokeswoman Janice Okubo. Television footage shows some fish sticking their mouths out of the water. The department has warned people to stay out of the area because the dead fish could attract sharks and other predators like barracuda.

In some ways, cleaning up a molasses spill is more difficult than cleaning oil. While oil floats, molasses sinks, coating sea floor habitats and corals. And it’s not just molasses displacing water that threatens fish – algae feed off the molasses, sucking oxygen out of the water and suffocating fish.

Here’s coverage from CBS News:


Molasses may not seem dangerous, but like any Boston native, I know they can be deadly in large quantities – the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 killed 21 people in Boston’s North End.

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Published: September 12, 2013