September 13, 2013

A massive spill of thick molasses has turned Honolulu Harbor into a watery wasteland where thousands of fish have been suffocated -- a disaster that officials say Mother Nature will have to clean up.

“There’s nothing alive there at all,” diver Roger White told NBC affiliate KHNL after making a seven-minute video of dead sea life blanketing the bottom of the harbor.

“Everything is dead. They’re all dead and they’re all just lying across the bottom -- hundreds and hundreds, thousands.”

A pipeline running from storage tanks to ships spewed up to 233,000 gallons of molasses into the water on Monday.

The shipping company, Matson Navigation, said the leak was repaired on Tuesday, but there's nothing it can do to clean up the mess. Gary Gill of the state Health Department said officials were advised "to let nature take its course."

"Without that fluctuation of the tides we're not getting any new oxygenated water in. So that's what we're hoping for," said Heather Kerkering of Pacific Island Ocean Observing System.

The lack of oxygen is what's killing fish, crabs and eels. However, the tide in Honolulu Harbor only moves about two feet up and down.

"That's why the exchange will take some time. But we will eventually exchange that water out and replace it with clean sea water," said Hawaii Pacific University oceanography professor Chris Wynn.

The state said the molasses plume is moving west through the Kalihi channel. That observation is from what can be seen on the surface. "It's more difficult than trying to predict something like an oil spill. Molasses is much denser and most of it is probably just sitting at the bottom," Kerkering said.

University of Hawaii oceanography professor Brian Powell said that will make it difficult to disperse.

"The only way to get rid of this would be to mechanically remove it in some way, to add some sort of mixing mechanism injecting oxygen into the bottom, or let nature take care of it," he said.

The die-off also could lure predators like sharks, barracuda and eels to the harbor and neighboring Keehi Lagoon, experts warned.

"This is the worst environmental damage to sea life that I have come across, and it’s fair to say this is a biggie, if not the biggest that we've had to confront in the state of Hawaii," Gill told KHNL.

Matson apologized Thursday for Monday's molasses spill disaster and said the company will not "run from responsibility."

Matson has set up a Claims hotline for businesses that have suffered losses from the spill. The number is (808) 848-8300.

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