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Oil Spill Slimes Udalls Cove

             As Spring, 2001 began, two oil spills fouled the waters and coastlines along the north shore of Long Island.  On about March 20, 2001 a barge carrying heavy fuel oil left a refinery in New Jersey and traveled through Long Island Sound.  Somewhere along the way the barge received a gash about ten feet below the waterline and began leaking its cargo into the water, leaving oil slicks on rocks and tar balls on beaches.  The company that was transporting the barge, Moran Towing of Connecticut, accepted responsibility and, under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard, promptly started a cleanup.  Most affected by the barge leak was a 25-mile stretch of Suffolk County centered on Brookhaven. A number of birds were killed as a result of the oil spill, and others have been observed with oil on their feathers. 

            At first, the barge spill was thought to be the source of oil that began washing up on the shores of Udalls Cove a few days later.  The Coast Guard and Moran�s cleanup contractor mobilized, using Douglaston�s Memorial Field as their operations base.  Booms were stretched across the inlet at the head of the Cove to try to keep oil from getting back into the marshlands.  Absorbent materials were used to skim oil from the water�s surface, and crews cleaned oil from the sand and rocks along the shoreline.   Several dumpsters were filled with oil-soaked absorbent materials.  

            However, chemical �finger print� comparisons of the oil in Udalls Cove with the oil at the Brookhaven spill showed that the source was not the same.  After further investigation, the  Coast Guard learned that the Udalls Cove oil spill came from an illegal discharge from an apartment building in Bayside, on the opposite shore of the Bay.  (The owner is liable for the costs of the cleanup operation.) 

            Soon after the spill, a number of birds, including ducks, geese and swans were observed with oil on their feathers; quite a few were caught and cleaned. 

            Interestingly, a seal was observed on April 1, 2001 (no � this is not an April Fool�s joke) in the inlet at the head of Udalls Cove, behind the oil spill boom.  Many people watched while it made its way through the mud and trickle of water left in the inlet at low tide.  Finally the seal crawled over the boom, but did not immediately head back out towards open water. On the contrary, it continued to hang around the head of the Cove until some of the cleanup workers chased it away (for its own protection).  Some have speculated that the boom may have trapped fish in the inlet stream as the tide went down, and the seal may have gone after these �easy pickings.�   

            The Coast Guard reported that the cleanup went well, and indeed the area looks now as if nothing ever happened.  But the Coast Guard confirmed that some of the heavy oil had seeped under rocks, making a complete clean up nearly impossible.  Some seepage of this trapped oil back to the water may occur from time-to-time, especially during warmer months (when the water is warmer, making any left over oil more mobile and volatile).   

            Although you won�t see an oil sheen too often, the effects of the oil spill may linger on.  Wave action will break up and disperse some of the remaining oil; and oil-loving bacteria will eat some of it.  But much of the oil that can�t be collected during the cleanup will remain to adversely affect plants and animals, from the microscopic species all the way up the food chain to crustaceans, fish, birds and mammals.  We are particularly concerned about the mussels that ordinarily line the shore of Memorial Field in great profusion, and which are a great food source for gulls and other sea birds. 

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Last modified: 02/08/15  

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