Huge Molasses Spill Off Hawaii: A Diver's Report

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

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.


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.

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.

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