Sunday, 22 September 2013

Molasses Spill Suffocating Hawaiian Reef Fish

The spill that dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor last week is suffocating the harbor's underwater inhabitants.

The thick brown goop displaces oxygen-rich water that fish, crustaceans and corals need to breathe. Direct contact with the viscous syrup can clog a fish's gills. And the sugary liquid causes bacterial blooms, which use up the remaining oxygen.

Most of the creatures living in the harbor need oxygen to survive. "It's affecting all levels of the food chain," said Keith Korsmeyer, a marine biologist at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu.

The Hawaii Department of Health is monitoring the spill. Officials can remove the dead fish, but there's no way to extract the molasses, because it's dissolved in the seawater. Over time, bacteria will break it down, and the tides will bring in clean water, though "it will be a while before we know how quickly the molasses will move out," Korsmeyer told LiveScience.

The spill occurred when a pipeline carrying molasses from an onshore tank to a ship burst, turning the harbor into a sugary mess. Though it's still early to know the extent of the spill's impact, underwater video footage revealed massive die-offs of fish.

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