The massive Matson molasses spill that occurred in Honolulu Harbor last week that has killed thousands of marine and reef fish is also killing corals at an alarming rate, according to a University of Hawaii researcher. The spill, which caused 233,000 gallons of molasses destined for California is now extending out of the harbor, Dr. Bob Richmond with the University of Hawaii told KITV News. A video of the coral reefs in the harbor were analyzed by Richmond, and he showed KITV the massive bleaching of corals occurring as a result of the spill.
“Corals that were likely stressed a day or two ago are now dead, so inside the harbor is where we see a lot of mortality but even coming out of the harbor, turning to the west, you can see the influence of the plume extending,” said Dr. Bob Richmond, A University of Hawaii, Manoa researcher who works at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory. Richmond is still trying to determine why so many fish were killed by the spill, but thinks that the molasses may be pulling water out of the interior cells of the fish and destroying the cells and killing the fish. Two officials with the U.S. EPA are onsite to oversee any cleanup efforts and Keehi Lagoon has been closed due to water contamination and a possible increase in ocean predators.
Coral reefs are one of the most prized natural resources in the 50th state, so much so that a 2011 peer-reviewed report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration valued Hawaii’s coral reef ecosystems at more than $30 billion. The state is currently battling an outbreak of Montipora White Syndrome on rice corals (Montipora sp.) living in Kaneohe Bay on the windward side of the island. First seen in the bay in 2010, the disease has killed more than 200 colonies of the corals.
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Matson, which is one of several shipping companies that serve the Hawaiian islands, issued the following statement at the time of the spill: Matson regrets that the incident impacted many harbor users as well as wildlife. We are taking steps to ensure this situation does not happen again.”