On September 9th 233,000 gallons of Molasses leaked into Honolulu Harbor. Matson Shipping company is assuming the blame for the spill. Like the stay-puff-marshmallow man attacking New York City, the harmless treat that turns into tragedy seems unreal. The pipe was rusty, we never had this problem before, the line was crusty, now all the fish lay dead on the ocean floor. The problem is, we don’t have a lot of experience cleaning up molasses spills. Molasseses unlike oil, is heavier than water and eventually sinks.
That makes it is difficult to remove. It also seems to have an adverse affect on life in the ocean. Either it gets stuck in the gills of fish, or the fish and invertebrates suffocate from lack of dissolved oxygen in the water. The reason there is no dissolved oxygen in the water is because bacteria is now devouring the sugar in the molasses, and through the respiration of the bacteria the oxygen is replaced with carbon dioxide .
On Friday the 13th, I personally dove an area called Ke’Ehi lagoon beach park. It is located at a river mouth about 2mi west of the spill. This area had a typical silty bottom, home to many crabs, lobsters, shrimp and worms. I didn’t see one live creature in my 30 min dive. All the animals that should have been in their holes hiding or filter feeding, were sprawled out dead.
After my dive at the beach park I visited Ke’ Ehi Harbor. The resident who lived on his boat recapped the tragedy he had seen in the last three days. He talked about on the first day there were larger fish that washed up, eels and other carnivores. Then all the reef fish started flocking to the shallows. Some were trying to breath, some were dead. Surprisingly he noticed that the birds in the area had all left. As though they new something was wrong. Each morning thousands of fish were washed up against the harbor shore. His speculation was that the pelagic fish were able to leave, since they weren’t territorial, they could sense the lack of oxygen and headed out to sea. “The reef fish that are more territorial were unable to head out to sea or didn’t know any better, so they tried to follow the oxygen inland, and washed up in the harbor.”
The media speculated that all the dead fish might attract larger predators like sharks. I personally don’t think that there is going to be an increase of sharks or other predators that threaten the south shores of Oahu. Although I have noticed a resident Monk seal hanging around more since the spill. I think , like the birds, the death probably warned them that something is very wrong. Even if sharks did try to enter an area reeking of dead fish, the lack of oxygen would scare them off. I just wonder how long it will take for the water to re-absorb oxygen and clean it’s self of the molasses.
On Tuesday September 17th reports stated “officials say there is no real possibility of cleaning up the mess in Honolulu Harbor…Despite initial attempts by the Coast Guard to use vacuums, today they are no longer even trying. Take Part News Report , “If we could help in some way to lift the molasses from the bottom and mix it into the water, it may be removed faster. Dredging equipment could be used to disturb the bottom and remix the molasses into the water so currents or wind could move it into the open ocean where it would dissipate. The longer the molasses sits the longer it will take for the ocean to restore it’s dissolved oxygen.
I feel that Matson could have avoided this accident by checking and maintaining their equipment. I also feel that they are using and profiting from a public recourse that we are all responsible for maintain and protecting, the ocean. We all benefit from the ocean, whether it be job related or recreation. This tragedy will have lasting effects that will ripple through Oahu’s future. It is important that there is some sort of restoration plan and active responsibility that Matson assumes for their mistake to insure the health of the reef and the communities that rely on it.
Environmental pressures of overfishing, coastal development, climate change and marine debris already put stress on our reef systems. It is in all our best interest to do what we can now to protect and restore what is left of Hawaii’s reefs.
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