Small amounts of molasses can have devastating effects, researchers sayUPDATED 7:19 PM HST Sep 20, 2013Video Transcript
are discovering that even small concentrations of molasses can have a devastating impact on coral. The same molasses that spilled into the harbor is now being used to gauge how coral responds. KITV4's Andrew Pereira continues our team coverage of the molasses mess. Andrew? Yunji, Kenny... researchers at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory say what they're finding out doesn't bold well for coral colonies. Dark and gooey... This is a sample of the 233,000 gallons of molasses that spilled into Honolulu Harbor. BOB RICHMOND: "WHEN THEY SAY SLOW AS MOLASSES THERE'S A REASON, AND THIS IS AT WARM TEMPERATURE." Researchers at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory have been diluting the molasses into different concentrations to determine its effect on coral. BOB RICHMOND: "THE HIGHEST ONE IS 10 PARTS PER THOUSAND, WHICH IS THE REALLY DARK COLOR, AND WE KNOW INITIALLY BY THE SPILL THIS IS WHAT THE ANIMALS WERE EXPOSED TO." But even at 5 parts per thousand, the molasses is nothing sweet for coral colonies, especially lace coral. BOB RICHMOND: "THEY'RE BASICALLY EXTRUDING FILAMENTS FROM THE MOUTH, THEY'RE CALLED MESENTERIAL FILAMENTS, AND THIS IS OFTEN A DEFENSE AND A STRESS RESPONSE." That stress response, seen here under a microscope, can quickly lead to bleaching and eventually death. BOB RICHMOND: "THIS WILL HELP US DETERMINE THE KINDS OF APPROACHES WE MAY USE FOR EFFORTS TO REHABILITATE AND RESTORE THE AREA AROUND THE SPILL." Matson HAS taken responsibility for the cost of responding to the spill, but has not committed to paying for any coral restoration effort. BOB RICHMOND: "YOU WOULD BASICALLY COST IT OUT BASED ON DIVER TIME, THE EQUIPMENT, THE MATERIALS, THE BOATS, THE GASOLINE AND THINGS OF THAT NATURE." ANDREW PEREIRA: "ONCE ALL OF THE RESEARCH IS FINISHED AT THE KEWALO MARINE LABORATORY, THE TRUE TEST WILL COME FROM THESE CORAL TRANSPLANTS, WHICH WILL ACT LIKE A CANARY IN A COLE MINE FOR HONOLULU HARBOR." BOB RICHMOND: "IF THE CORALS ARE DOING FINE, IF THEY'RE GROWING PROPERLY, THEN WE KNOW THE CONDITIONS WOULD BE ACCEPTABLE TO MOVING SOME OTHER CORALS IN." Researchers at the lab are also using this device to determine dissolved oxygen levels in and around the harbor. Samples taken Wednesday produced startling results. LAUREN WETZELL: "NORMALLY THE WATER, THE DISSOLVED OXYGEN IS ABOUT FIVE OR SIX MILIGRAMS PER LITER, AND WE'RE SEEING RESULTS AROUND THREE, SOMETIMES A LITTLE LESS THAN THAT. Even in areas where molasses appears to have flushed out, the results were the same. LAUREN WETZELL: "THE CLARITY OF THE WATER WAS VERY CLEAR, SO WE WERE QUITE SURPRISED TO SEE THAT." The lab and the state Health Department will cross reference their water testing equipment to make sure there are no discrepancies as far as dissolved oxygen levels are concerned. Kenny, Yunji... back to you.