Fish dying in large numbers after molasses spill

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The state has a big problem on its hands.

Fish in Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon are dying in large numbers after Matson leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses into the water through a broken pipe.

It’s essentially suffocating the marine life.

The leaky pipe has since been sealed.

Matson has had a molasses operation on Sand Island since 1983.

The company currently ships in molasses from Maui then holds it in storage tanks on Sand Island until its ready to be shipped to California for processing.

On Monday, a Matson ship left Honolulu with 1,600 tons of molasses. On Tuesday, Matson crews discovered a leak in one of their pipelines.

Molasses is something found at the grocery store. It’s a thick syrup and a byproduct of the sugar refining process. It’s often used to make baked goods like cookies, gingerbread, and fruitcake.

It’s harmless for humans, but harmful for fish.

“We’ve never seen them in so much trouble before,” 11-year-old Cody said.

Cody and his 10-year-old sister Makayla couldn’t believe what they saw from the docks at La Mariana Sailing Club.

“Like another puffer fish dead right there,” Cody said.

“I see a family of little fish and bigger fish like moms and dads that are trying to survive, getting as much air as they can,” Makayla said.

“I come here a lot and I see these fish. And to come today and it’s kind of sad to see all these dead fish,” Cody said.

Next to La Mariana Restaurant, there were all kinds of Hawaiian reef fish that were uncharacteristically in shallow waters. They were fighting to stay alive alongside the carcasses of other fish.

“I’ve been here nine years and this is the first time happened because of the molasses issue,” La Mariana Restaurant Chef Sam Etrata said.

A leaky Matson pipeline spilled as much as 1,400 tons, or 233,000 gallons, of molasses into Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon.

“So it’s kind of stopping the oxygen and they can’t breathe anymore, so they’re gasping up here for air,” Cody said.

Matson says it regrets that the spill impacted many harbor users and wildlife.

The company said in a statement, “We are taking steps to ensure this situation does not happen again. We have a long history in Honolulu Harbor and can assure all involved that this is a rare incident in our long-standing Sand Island operation.”

Molasses is a natural product that will disintegrate over time, but not before claiming the lives of thousands of fish.

“It’s kind of sad and devastating,” Cody said.

“Because maybe some of them are newborns and they’re like, ‘Yes I’m finally born!’ But now they’re going to die,” Makayla said.

The Department of Health is advising people to stay out of the water at or near Keehi Lagoon until the molasses dissipates because all the dead fish could possibly attract sharks.

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