While the term “molasses spill” may not carry with it the same connotations as an oil spill, a spill of the sticky substance can prove to be just as deadly to fish. The water off Honolulu is now filled with the thick, sugary liquid and thousands of choking fish. According to KITV, the spill was caused by a faulty pipe under a harbor pier.

“There are two large reservoirs that contain molasses and during the loading of molasses into a ship early Monday morning an amount of molasses was spilled into the harbor,” said Department of Health deputy director Gary Gill.

More than 1,400 tons of molasses was dumped into the ocean, creating over 200,000 gallons of sugar water. The sweet mixture is already wreaking havoc on the local environment. In addition to promoting the growth of harmful algae and bacteria, the sinking molasses is also causing fish that typically live in deeper water to surface.

“They are trying to get away from the deeper water where they normally live because there’s an environmental change down there. It’s either low in oxygen or something is affecting their ability to breathe and it’s causing them to come up to the surface and into our shore,” said aquatic biologist Dave Gulko.

Ill-equipped to deal with surface conditions, many of these fish are floundering. Not that shallow water fish are doing much better, residents have reported thousands of fish dead or dying in Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon. Worse yet is the fact that the molasses has to disintegrate over time and there is little that officials can do to hurry this process along.

“It’s not like an oil spill where the oil will rise to the surface and it can be skimmed out mechanically,” said Gill. “There’s no way that we’ve identified to reduce the molasses that’s already in the water.”

The dead fish may also attract larger predators such as sharks, so residents are being advised to stay out of the water for the time being. With the rank smell of dead fish, beach-goers already have enough incentive to stay away. The shipping company behind the spill, Matson, said that it will be taking steps to prevent such a spill from happening in the future. The Pacific Business News reports that the company hired divers to identify the faulty pipe on Tuesday.

“Matson regrets that the incident impacted many harbor users, as well as wildlife,” the company said in a statement. ” We take our role as an environmental steward very seriously and have a strong record of leadership in the maritime industry on a number of fronts.”

The Department of Health is currently considering which consequences or fines are applicable for Matson in light of the spill.

Image from Shawn Rossi on the Wikimedia Commons

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