Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hawaiian Molasses Spill

     On Monday September 9, 2013, Matson Navigation Company was responsible for 1,400 tons, or 233,000 gallons, of molasses spilling into Honolulu Harbor. The results have been devastating for wildlife that calls the waters their home. Hawaii’s Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo states that the “high concentration of molasses is making it difficult for [the fish] to breathe.” The Environmental Health Division’s deputy director, Gary Gill, tells a reporter that the spill has led to “the worst environmental damage to sea life that I have come across.” A diver was sent into the depths of the harbor to survey the damage, and his findings were bleak. He states, “It was shocking because the entire bottom is covered with dead fish… Every single thing is dead. We're talking in the hundreds, thousands. I didn't see one single living thing underwater." The Department of Health’s News Release informs citizens that the molasses is not a direct threat to the public, but since there are numerous dead fish in the waters, there could be “an increase in predator species such as sharks, barracuda, and eels.” Furthermore, “the nutrient-rich liquid could also cause unusual growth in marine algae, stimulate an increase in harmful bacteria, and trigger other environmental impacts.” Approximately 2,000 dead fish have been collected already, but many more are expected in the coming weeks. The plan of action is to let nature run its course, and allow the water to dissipate the molasses. Tests are being run on the collected fish and collected water samples to allow for an estimation of the “duration and severity of the contamination.”
     Although Hawaiian tourism officials “do not foresee any immediate impact on our visitor industry,” I disagree. Tourism is Hawaii’s main source of income, and a trip there is in no way cheap. Many potential vacationers may want to postpone trips they would have otherwise taken due to the molasses-infested waters. If there were any possibility that I could not swim in the waters after I spent thousands of dollars for a vacation, I would certainly want to wait. The spill occurred a few miles west of the popular tourist area, Waikiki beach, and could eventually impact those with this destination in mind for their vacation. In addition to the tourist industry, the fish industry will definitely suffer. In terms of tourism, many vacationers charter fishing boats while visiting and no fish means no fishing. Fish broker John Hernandez believes the waters will take years to restore. Hawaii’s fishing industry is inelastic because those involved are completely dependent upon it for income. When a waterman already has the necessary equipment, including a license, boat, fish-finding technology, excreta, it is not a simple feat for him or her to change professions and become an accountant, for example. While it may be feasible for them to change from harvesting one type of marine life to another, the molasses spill has eliminated that as an option as it has impacted all forms of life.
--Lauren Wells

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