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Massive molasses spill smothers sea life in Honolulu

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keehi lagoon eye of einstein flickr
keehi lagoon eye of einstein flickr

Ke'ehi Lagoon in Honolulu, on a better day.

A leak in a molasses pipeline discovered on Sunday has resulted in a sticky environmental disaster in the Honolulu Harbor that is killing thousands of fish and potentially attracting sharks. Local officials predict that the molasses could also "cause an unusual growth in marine algae ... an increase in harmful bacteria … and other environmental impacts."

The spilled molasses, equal to about a third of an Olympic swimming pool, was supposed to be loaded onto a ship operated by transport company Matson Navigation bound for the US West Coast. It is unclear if anyone will be held responsible for the accident.

Response agencies must wait for rain

Response agencies have little recourse but to wait for rain and tides to flush the molasses out of the Ke’ehi Lagoon and into the sea, where it will be diluted and broken down. Unfortunately, that's likely to take at least a week, an official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Discovery News today.

The Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency are staying out of the situation because the spill was not oil or a hazardous material. In the meantime, the sugary brown stuff is choking everything underwater, not unlike oil would. A dive shop owner who surveyed the lagoon floor told Reuters that the molasses had coated lobsters, worms, and sea fans, and "anything that was down there was dead." Fortunately, the molasses will eventually disperse on its own — which is more than the residents of Boston could say in 1919, when a tank of molasses exploded and flooded the streets, killing 12 people.