Honolulu’s waters devastated by molasses spill

233,000 gallons of refined sugar are causing serious environmental damage -- and attracting sharks

Topics: Hawaii, Clean Water Act, sharks, ,

Honolulu's waters devastated by molasses spill20130910-6904 CTY SPIILL There was a big spill of molasses in Honolulu Harbor yesterday that killed a lot of fish and could result in fines for Matson. There are dead fish still to be found floating around the harbor today as Placido Shim shows two fish he gaffed that were floating past his boat. PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA. SEPT. 10, 2013. (Credit: Dennis Oda)

The basic contours of news coming out of Hawaii are familiar: a brown plume was spotted Monday in Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon. Upon investigation, a leak was found in a pipeline. Health officials are warming swimmers and surfers to stay out of the water as cleanup crews work to collect hundreds of dead fish. And experts are watching closely for further environmental damage from the 233,000 gallon spill.

The one difference? They’re not dealing with oil, but molasses. And in some ways, that’s just as bad. According to the Hawaii Department of Health, the refined sugar doesn’t pose a direct threat to humans, but it’s polluting the harbor’s waters. The molasses is too thick for fish to breathe through, and thousands more are expected to die.

Worse yet, it may start attracting sharks.

The shipping company successfully plugged the leak Tuesday. It’s possible the state will fine them for violating the Clean Water Act down the line. For now, though, efforts are being concentrated on testing fish and water samples to measure the extend of the contamination.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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