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Several beaches cleared of oily debris following spill

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

State and federal officials have made progress cleaning up the oil that spilled along Delaware’s coastline. 

The state learned of the spill through a call to its environmental hotline Oct. 19, after the oil was observed washing ashore at Broadkill Beach.

After about two weeks of cleanup, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the U.S. Coast Guard and Maryland Department of the Environment say they’ve cleared beaches between Delaware’s Indian River Inlet and Maryland’s Assateague Island of oily debris and tarballs.

The beaches cleared include Bethany, South Bethany, Fenwick, Ocean City and Assateague. Officials say roughly 75 tons of oily debris has been removed. 

The unified command consisting of the Coast Guard and the two state agencies stood down its incident command post in Slaughter Beach Wednesday. 

But DNREC spokeswoman Nikki Lavoie says clean-up continues elsewhere along the Delaware Bay.  

“Our crews are out there continuing to survey both the beaches that have been cleared as well as those that still require some work,” she said. 

The beach in Lewes is still closed. Beachgoers in other affected areas should stay out of the water and avoid walking along the high tide line.

Lavoie says the ecological impact has been limited. 

“Right now we have not seen significant impacts to wildlife. There has been oiled birds that we have identified, particularly sea gulls. But even those … were still flighted, meaning they were still able to move.”

Steve Cotrell, a board member at the Delaware Audubon Society, says the ecological impact could have been far greater if the spill occurred during the spring migration of birds. Birds such as the Red Knot, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists as a threatened species, stop to refuel when horseshoe crabs spawn along the Delaware Bay.

“If the spill occurred at that time, it could have been an ecological disaster,” Cotrell said. “Because if the birds could not feed, they would not be able to continue on in their journey. The population is already depressed because of overharvesting crabs in years past. So any setbacks like that could have had a very serious impact on the population.”

Officials still don’t know who caused the spill. The U.S. Coast Guard is actively investigating by analyzing oil samples. If found, the responsible party would be required to reimburse the federal government for the cleanup.

The Delaware Audubon Society has offered a $2,000 reward for information about the source of the spill.

“We felt this was a good opportunity to draw attention to how fragile our Delaware coastline is,” Cotrell said. “It’s such an important area for birds that are there all year round, and more importantly for migrants that use Delaware Bay.”


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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