National Geographic News
An environmental cleanup crew member holds a bag of dead marine life in Keehi Lagoon, Honolulu, Hawaii.

An environmental cleanup crew member holds a bag of dead marine life in Keehi Lagoon after a massive molasses spill from a Matson cargo ship in Honolulu, Hawaii, September 12 ,2013.

Photograph by Hugh Gentry, Reuters

Tanya Basu

National Geographic

Published September 13, 2013

Hawaii's Honolulu Harbor has been inundated this week with 230,000 gallons—1,400 tons—of thick, sticky molasses from a pipeline spill. It may sound like a sweet problem, but the molasses is killing fragile coral reefs, endangered marine life, and millions of microorganisms.

Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

The spill started Monday, when a faulty pipe that was supposed to deliver the molasses to a California-bound container ship owned by shipping company Matson instead discharged the stuff into the sea.

A video shot by a local scuba diver and showing scores of dead wildlife and milky amber waters is horrifying people around the world.

We talked to Roger Smith, the Honolulu-based scuba instructor who shot the video, to get a firsthand account of the molasses' effect on the harbor's wildlife. Smith is the owner of Cool Blue Scuba.

What's it like to swim in the waters?

Usually the water has a greenish hue from the algae. But when I dove, it was brown, almost like a cola color. The molasses sunk down to the bottom, and it kind of blanketed everything. It sucks the oxygen out of the water.

What was the state of the wildlife?

Every living thing is usually hiding in a hole. But every living thing came out and was gasping to live. Crabs, fish, worms, feather dusters … everything was just laying out in the bottom, just dead. The bigger fish had died, but they had gone to float to the top. The smaller fish were just on the floor.

We saw a couple of small fish that were up on the surface and they were gasping for air, but they didn't look like they were going to live, either. They were up by the surface, but because molasses sinks, they already had it in their system.

Is it safe for humans to swim in the waters?

It's not safe because of the dead animals. It's creating a bacterial growth. I'm guessing that since the molasses is soluble that the diurnal [twice daily] tide will pretty quickly wash it out.

I've never seen anything like this. We had a large sewage spill six or eight years ago. It was a stinky mess, but nothing like this.

Follow Tanya Basu on Twitter .

8 comments
daniel rosete
daniel rosete

I think  star fish mortality  in Americas  pacific coast its related

Huang Yan Han
Huang Yan Han

What's it like to dive into molasses-clogged Honolulu Harbor

will simms
will simms

its look like oil....molasses Bull S@#$..YOU HUMANS NEVER LEARN.'ALWAYS KILLING THE Earth

Michael Bagley
Michael Bagley

can't wait to see what Matson does, both on their own and what they are forced to do, to ameliorate this situation.  

Michael Shellard
Michael Shellard

230000 gallons of the stuff and nobody noticed straight away???

Looks like a case of poor maintainance and definitely bad management and supervision. Doesn't anyone check its all hooked up ok before they start pumping  and how long does it take  to pump that quantity?? without anyone noticing it was going straight into the water. CEO and board members heads should roll for this one total incompetenancy from the top downward.

Beth Kerner
Beth Kerner

So awful and sad, I hope we can clean up soon! Just to be fair to other spills.... Should we now boycott molasses companies? Just saying.... An accident is an accident and no company would want an accident.

tayib colen
tayib colen

@daniel rosete Looks like a case of poor maintainance and definitely bad management and supervision. Doesn't anyone check its all hooked up ok before they start pumping  and how long does it take  to pump that quantity?? without anyone noticing it was going straight into the water. CEO and board members heads should roll for this one total incompetenancy from the top downward.
http://bit.ly/1bTUYyd
http://bit.ly/1i0R8Gc

Baran Galoczi
Baran Galoczi

@Beth Kerner Yep . . . an accident is an accident and gross incompetence is gross incompetence and, when an accident is the result of gross incompetence,  heads should roll!  Just sayin'

Share

Popular Stories

The Future of Food

See more food news, photos, and videos »