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Massive Molasses Spill Wreaking Havoc off the Coast of Hawaii

Sep 12, 2013 02:39 PM EDT

A massive molasses spill has left thousands of fish dead in Hawaii's Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon.

As much as 1,400 tons of the sugary liquid may have entered the harbor, the effects of which are likely to be felt for some time to come, wildlife experts say.

"It's in a bay, so there's not a lot of circulation, so you're not going to have flushing of this water out," biologist David Field told CNN affiliate Hawaii News Now. "So, in this area where the spill occurred, we're going to see the effects probably for a long time."

Matson Inc. is being blamed for the spill, having loaded a ship with 1,600 tons of molasses for shipping to the West Coast for processing early Monday morning. According to the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH), the ship left the harbor before sunrise and by 8:00 a.m. a dark discoloration of the water was reported to the Coast Guard. The following day, the company identified a leak in their molasses pipeline near the pier, which they have since patched up, Fox News reported.

"We're working with all the local officials, but as the [Hawaii] Department of Health said, there's nothing you can do to clean up molasses," Matson Inc. Spokesman Jeff Hull told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "It's sunk to the bottom of the harbor. Unlike oil, which can be cleaned from the surface, molasses sinks."

Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the DOH, put it this way: "It's sugar in the water. If you know a scientific way to remove it from water, let us know."

In an effort to reduce the environmental impact of the spill, DOH emergency response crews are removing dead fish from the area -- a task it says it will continue "as long as necessary."

In the meantime, officials are advising the public to avoid the area given the possibility of increased predators such as sharks, barracuda and eels due to the dead fish.

The DOH further warns that the molasses could trigger "unusual growth in marine algae, stimulate an increase in harmful bacteria and trigger other environmental impacts."

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