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Tidal wave of molasses and sharks menaces Hawaii surf

September 19, 2013 Destination Hawaii, Headline News 2 Comments Email Email

egtmedia59An urgent warning has gone out to tourists, swimmers and surfers after hundreds of tonnes of molasses poured into the sea near Honolulu Harbour.

Molasses is a thick, sticky, sugary, caramel-like, dark brown syrup, often used in rum making. It’s similar to treacle and is obtained from raw sugar during the refining process. You don’t want to swim or surf in molasses – especially not in the 1400 tonnes that has just poured from a ruptured pipe into the ocean by Honolulu.Molasses

Sharks are reportedly heading into the area – not to eat the molasses, but to feed on the thousands of fish that have been killed by it.

Professor of Environmental Biotechnology at Bangor University in Wales, Barry Johnson, told Radio Australia that bacteria feasting on the molasses would deplete the sea of oxygen, which suffocates fish. That, in turn, attracts sharks.

Johnson said a molasses spill was not as severe as an oil spill, but molasses sank to the bottom and did much damage. Crews working the water and shorelines have collected over 25,000 dead fish already.

Some experts say it could take months or years for the molasses to clear. Matson Navigation, the company whose pipe ruptured while loading the molasses into a ship, will pay to clean up the spill, reportedly.

Far more deadly molasses spills have happened on land. The worst was the Great Boston Molasses Disaster, also known as the Great Molasses Flood and the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy. A gigantic molasses storage tank burst in a suburb of Boston on 15 January 1919, sending a wave of molasses up to 4.5 metres high roaring through the streets at an estimated 55 km/h, knocking down and crushing buildings as terrified residents tried desperately to outrun it. The molasses wave drowned 21 people and injured 150.

Surfing of a sort is possible on a wave of molasses, though not advisable. In a 1983 article for Smithsonian, Edwards Park wrote of one child’s experience during the Great Molasses Flood:

“Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing.”

Surfers are not advised to try that in Hawaii.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Peter… where DO you get these titbits of interesting molasses history? Very tragic then I’m sure but somehow amusing now..

  2. Peter says:

    Hi Annette,

    Quite a bit of research is required — and much of it is fascinating! As you say, the molasses flood seems a bit wacky in retrospect, 94 years after it happened. But I’m glad I wasn’t there at the time.

    Molasses flooding is something you don’t hear on the weather forecast!

    There are some interesting side issues, like it took 300 people two weeks to clean it up, working in shifts around the clock. For decades afterwards residents claimed that on hot summer days, the area in Boston still smelled of molasses. It had seeped into the cobblestone streets. Wikipedia has a picture of the plaque erected to commemorate the victims.

    Hope they get the Hawaii spill under control soon.


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