Woods Hole Oil Spill - January 22, 2018

An oil spill originating Sunday night at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium closed a large portion of Great Harbor to boat travel. Chris Reddy, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's department of marine chemistry and geochemistry who has studied spills all around the world, takes samples for inspection in the lab.

An oil spill occurred by the Woods Hole Science Aquarium on Sunday night, January 21, closing off a large portion of Great Harbor to boat travel. 

The United States Coast Guard was notified of the spill at approximately 1:27 PM on January 21. It originated by the boat ramps near the Woods Hole Science Aquarium.

"The initial sheen that was reported was 100 by 100 yards, and it was at the end of Great Harbor," said Coast Guard public affairs officer Ensign Nathan Mendes. 

Joining them at the scene of the spill were representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Falmouth harbormaster's office and Sea Tow. 

"They looked around for a responsible party," Ensign Mendes said. "They couldn't determine one at the time. Even now, a responsible party has not been identified."

They crews deployed deployed sorbent pads and booms in the water and lined the shores with material to collect the spilled material, which Ensign Mendes described as a mix of lubricating oil and diesel. 

"That strategy worked. The amount of recoverable product is almost gone at this point," he said.

Marine and environmental services deputy director R. Charles Martinsen III said he's been working with Sea Tow and Clean Harbors to find waterfowl impacted by the spill. So far, they have found 23 deceased waterfowl. 

"It's an ongoing investigation. The animals are currently in evidence in our department and will be examined for cause of death," Mr. Martinsen said, suggesting some might have perished prior to the spill due to the cold snap. 

"There are some presenting with oil and petroleum product beneath their wings, on their chest and throughout their body," he confirmed.

The marine and environmental services also worked with the three aquaculture farms located in Great Harbor. Some were deep enough that they would not be impacted by the spill, others needed to be relocated. They worked quickly to get the necessary approvals to allow for relocation of these farms prior to being damaged by the spill, he said. 

Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution used the spill as an opportunity. 

"The sampling went well. My lab collected a variety of different field samples by the Woods Hole dock and Woods Hole Yacht Club," said Christopher M. Reddy, a scientist at WHOI.

Mr. Reddy has shared his preliminary findings with Commander Jeannot A. Smith at the Woods Hole United States Coast Guard station and R. Charles Martinsen III, deputy director of marine and environmental services for the Town of Falmouth. 

"Their job is to stop a bad thing from getting worse," Mr. Reddy said. 

He is confident in their ability to do so. 

"There are really good folks in charge down there. There has been good communication between the state, the Coast Guard and local government," Mr. Reddy said. "It's an unfortunate event but I think the people who live in Falmouth and rely on Falmouth waterways are in good hands." 

He said there are three phases to dealing with an oil spill, which include the initial response, the assessment and restoration. During this initial period, the goal is to contain and constrain the oil. Monday's weather proved helpful in this regard.

"Today was calm. Calm is good: the people can work safely in their boats, and absorbent booms work well in calm waters," Mr. Reddy said. 

Ensign Mendes confirmed that both the cleanup and investigation are ongoing. 

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