NOAA releases cards to trace potential oil spills damage

When residual oil from spills from O’ahu have threatened Kaua’i in the past, authorities often times had a hard timed tracking where on Kaua’i’s coastline the pollutants might end up, slowing recovery efforts.

The same concern arises from ocean-generated debris that threatened marine life and eco-systems.

Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hazardous Materials Division hopes to demystify the process with the use of wooden drift cards the size of a palm pilot, bringing about faster and more efficient recovery responses.

As part of a two-year exploratory study of near-shore surface currents of the Hawaiian Islands, a team of volunteers and experts from the NOAA division released the cards off Barber’s Point on Dec. 10.

The intent is to learn where floating pollutants might go if released from Barber’s Point.

Kaua’i County is likely to benefit directly from the effort.

On August 24, 1998, a hose failure at Tesoro Hawai’i’s single-point mooring at Barber’s Point led to a release of 4,924 gallons of oil.

How much of that reached Kaua’i is not known, but dead, oiled birds were subsequently found on Kaua’i’s northwestern beaches within two weeks.

Oil also was reported washed up at Barking Sands, Polihale, Nukoli’i, Fuji and Kipu Kai beaches. Of all the islands, Kauai was hit the hardest, authorities said.

A cleanup was conducted by the Coast Guard, Tesoro and private contractors.

David Hoffman, manager of environmental affairs with Tesoro, said Tesoro spent about $2 million for the cleanup and entered into a “natural resource damage assessment” process.

It was a collaborative effort with NOAA and federal and state agencies aimed at determining the environmental damage and generating remedies, Hoffman said.

Kim Beasley, general manager Clean Islands Council Inc., said the Oil Protection Act of 1999 places the immediate responsibility of a cleanup of any oil spill in Hawai’i with the captain of the Honolulu Marine Safety Office, US. Coast Guard of Honolulu.

Responsibility for the cleanup will fall on the shoulders as well of the state Department of Hawai’i and the offending oil company, Beasley said.

For the NOAA project, drift cards will be released once a month rather than all at once to accommodate seasonal changes in wind speeds and current directions, NOAA officials said.

About 100 cards will released each month, or about 2,400 over a two-year period, officials said.

During kona wind days, 100 cards will be released each day for a maximum of three days.

Made out of light wood and covered with non-toxic paint, the four-by-six-inch cards are designed to break apart in a few months, NOAA said.

Beasley said that project will be conducted by crew members aboard the “Clean Islands,” a 130-foot “oil spill response vessel” owned by the Clean Islands Council.

Beasley estimated the cost of the project at about $100,000.

NOAA is asking the public to help by reporting the date and location of the cards when they float ashore. Instructions and information are printed on the back of the cards.

Jean Nishida Sousa of the Kaua’i office for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, another division of NOAA assisting with the card project, said fishermen who come across the cards at sea should leave them alone and let them float to shore to produce optimum study results.

NOAA said if many cards found at a particular location that would indicate the area is “a natural collection point” for pollutants like pieces of plastic and nets, dead seabirds, fish and marine animals and other debris.

If a collection beach is identified, additional cards will be released to confirm the data.

“With the help of public volunteers, using drift cards is an inexpensive way to gather valuable information,” Glen Watabayashi, oceanographer with NOAA’s Hazardous Materials Division in Seattle, said in statement.

“The public can play an important role by providing information where currently little exists,” he said.

The data will be used by private industry, government, conservation groups and interested groups, Watabayashi said. The input from local residents also will be sought out for the study, Scherer said.

The study findings also can help scientists get a better grasp of fish migration and reproduction in Hawaii and the direction in which marine debris flows, Scherer said.

The NOAA study is a collaborative effort with the Clean Island Council Spill Response Cooperative, Tesoro, Coast Guard, NOAA National Weather Service and NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.

For more information about the card program, log onto response. retoration.noaa.gov/driftcard/driftFAQ.html.

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