‘Spill Spotters’ Needed To Keep Eyes On The Water

Michele S. Byers

by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation 

After the devastation of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago, many New Jerseyans wondered whether our state’s waters would be next. Although offshore drilling is not allowed right now, the Delaware and Raritan bays are home to some of the nation’s most active ports and oil refineries, with giant tankers loading and unloading petroleum and other chemicals.

New Jersey is vulnerable and must be prepared. That’s why the American Littoral Society should be applauded for its new “Spill Spotters” program, which trains volunteer citizens and community groups to recognize and respond to signs of an oil spill.

“The more eyes we have on the water, the better off we’ll be,” says Stevie Thorsen, education coordinator for the Littoral Society. “Even though in New Jersey the risk of an oil spill seems pretty small, we want to be prepared.”

The first three “Spill Spotters” workshops will be held just before Memorial Day weekend – one on Delaware Bay, one on Barnegat Bay and one on Raritan Bay – and more are planned over the summer. The Littoral Society is looking for individuals, as well as teachers, scout leaders and other community activists who can, in turn, pass the knowledge on to those interested in coastal protection.

Using seine nets, clam rakes and binoculars, Spill Spotters trainees will learn to how to collect baseline data on birds, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, worms and other creatures living in and around coastal waters. Knowing the normal background conditions will help them detect problems in the future.

After taking the three-hour class, volunteers can “adopt” spots along bays or estuaries, collect biological data with the help of American Littoral Society staff members, and return regularly for follow-up visits.

“They’ll really get to know their local waterways,” predicted Thorsen. “They’ll be the first to spot any changes.”

“On-the-ground” and “in-the-water” knowledge is critical if and when a spill occurs. Thorsen noted that one of the challenges of the Gulf of Mexico cleanup was a lack of baseline data in many locations.

All Spill Spotters will receive an oil spill response toolkit and contact information for reporting problems. Spill Spotters won’t be taught how to care for oil-soaked birds, but they can get that training if they’re interested.

If you love our coastal waterways, bays and estuaries, become a Spill Spotter! For more information about the Spill Spotters program and how to find a workshop near you, visit www.spillspotters.net or contact Stevie Thorsen at Stevie@littoralsociety.org or 1-732-291-0055. Even if you don’t have time for a workshop, the site provides valuable information about what to do if you notice a spill.

And if you want to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.


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