By Kassie Simmons | February 2, 2021 at 3:09 PM EST – Updated February 2 at 3:09 PM
OAK ISLAND, N.C. (WECT) – Residents take to social media to share the pictures of oil spreading across the Davis Canal, saying it’s worse than any spill they’ve seen before.
Oak Island resident Tierra Pointer makes a living walking dogs, meaning she spends a lot of time on the scenic walkway.
“It has pretty views, nice for the dogs to smell the scents so it’s a lot of fun to go to the scenic walks and to the beach,” said Pointer.
Two weeks ago, that walkway turned to a hazardous spill site, a site no outdoor lover wants to see.
“The top of the water was discolored from the oil staying on top,” said Pointer. “It was moving really fast, which was surprising. At first, I thought it was a small amount, but the water kept moving, it kept coming and it basically covered the entire top of the water for as far as I could see.
The Coast Guard responds to hundreds of calls about oil or fuel spills every year. Although the spills are technically small, they can still pose a threat to marine life and it can land the person responsible with a hefty fine or even jail time.
“When you’re seeing it like that, it’s usually from a boat,” said LCDR Michael Cavanagh. “It could also be runoff from the deck of a working barge. It was such a small amount, it could be any number of places.”
By the time the Coast Guard got the call and started investigating, the oil was in bad shape, making tracing the spill nearly impossible.
“The problem is when it becomes that weathered, even if we collect a sample of it and send it to our marine safety lab, chances are not good that they’re going to be able to identify with any level of certainty where it likely came from, what type of oil,” said LCDR Cavanagh.
Luckily, it wasn’t enough to do too much damage—and it only looks as bad as it did because of the way oil separates from water.
“Even a teaspoon could spread out several yards from a teaspoon of oil and water,” said LCDR Cavanagh. “When you’re looking at a sheen like that, we would call that very small, probably an incidental discharge.”
But even a small spill has community members concerned about the wildlife in their backyard.
“We have everything,” said Pointer. “Fish, birds, frogs. The marsh itself is home to rabbits, deers.”
Spills like this are easily avoidable. Lt. Commander Cavanaugh wants boat owners to make sure they’ve sealed all compartments and locked all hatches that might lead to a spill. You should also be careful not to over fuel your boat—that’s mainly a problem when a boat owner is distracted while trying to fill up.
“For small amounts like that, it is technically a harmful quantity in accordance with the Clean Water Act,” said LCDR Cavanagh. “We encourage everyone to absolutely report it because if we are able to identify a source, if it’s enough to cause a sheen, an emulsion or a sludge, then it is a violation of law and if we can identify who caused that discharge of oil into the marine environment, we can absolutely take enforcement action.”
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