Molasses spill could take months to dissipate

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Experts say the plume of the molasses spill is having a difficult time moving because it’s in a mostly confined area.

They say because currents are not strong enough where it spilled–the rate of it dissipating could take months.

And, some believe the effects  it could have on other marine life could increase as it moves.

Saturday, officials with the Department of Health, U.S. Coast Guard, and the EPA were out in Honolulu Harbor taking water samples.

“We’d expect dissolved oxygen at a unit between 5 and 6, we’ve seen dissolved oxygen level at the surface when the plume was very concentrated, at less than one,” Department of Health Deputy Director of Environmental Health Gary Gill said.

Researchers at UH also took water samples from four areas near Honolulu Harbor.

Three from the area where the spill happened and one near Aloha Tower Marketplace.

“The oxygen levels and the surface waters were approximately zero so there was no oxygen present and there was a strong smell of hydrogen sulfide which is a poisonous toxic gas,” Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology professor Bob Didigare said.

The low oxygen is being blamed for the deaths of thousands of fish.

“The presence of molasses itself covering the gill tissues may have impeded the uptake of oxygen from seawater eventually the oxygen was depleted,” Didigare said.

The state is conducting necropsies on the fish to see if there are other factors in the deaths.

There is still concern over where the molasses plume could go next.

“As the plume moves through the harbor this region of low oxygen moves with it presumably that is continued trouble for those regions of the harbor impacted by the plume. Eventually I suspect it will get out into the region of the harbor where the current are stronger and it will dissipate more quickly,” UH Department of Oceanography Assistant Professor Matthew Church said.

Dr. Andrew Rossiter at the Waikiki Aquarium says the road for marine life recovering from a spill like this one will be a long one.

“I was deeply saddened because you basically got the whole ecosystem knocked out. Molasses was released its dense its heavier than water so it falls down and forms a blanket over the corals and over the bottom. Over the course of the next couple of weeks I would guess the molasses would gradually disappear and then underneath you will find the coral would have gone all white because it would have died” Dr. Rossiter said.

He says once the molasses is gone, coral can grow again but will take up to three years to return to the way it was before the spill.

“We’re going to have to wait for all the small invertebrates to come back corals to recolonize before we can say there is a successful recolonization,” Dr. Rossiter said.

The governor has asked NOAA to help in the response efforts and a spokesperson with NOAA says they will be meeting on Monday to figure what they can do.

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