In honor of our 30th anniversary protecting the River, we will be sharing stories of our achievements over the years. From tagging horseshoe crabs in Moore’s Beach, NJ to challenging federal agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we continue to work on every level for a clean and healthy environment. Check back each month for a new story!
Should an oil spill occur on the Delaware River today, volunteers will be part of the response, but that hasn’t always been true. Up until 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard opposed volunteer involvement in emergency response. That changed as a result of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s role in the response to the 2004 Athos oil spill.
On the evening of November 26, 2004, as the Athos I maneuvered to its terminal near Paulsboro, it hit an 18,000 pound anchor resting on the bottom of the River. The anchor punctured the single hulled Athos I, spilling its cargo of Venezuelan crude into the Delaware. At least 265,000 gallons of oil – and perhaps as much as 473,000 gallons of oil – spilled into the River. Soon, birds, wildlife, and important river and wetland habitats were coated and contaminated by the heavy crude. All told, the Athos I oil spill harmed 115 miles of the River, oiled 280 miles of shoreline in three states, and affected over 16,000 birds, as well as the River’s fish, shellfish, wildlife.
Within the first 24 hours, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, led by Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum, kicked into gear, speaking on the River’s behalf to help the public learn what had happened and how they could help. van Rossum quickly called for a Natural Resources Damage Assessment that would hold the tanker’s owners and operators responsible for the irreparable environmental harm being inflicted. We also organized more than 100 volunteers to help gather information on the environmental harm being inflicted on the River and its ecosystems. These volunteers helped determine areas in immediate need of protective measures, such as booms, identified areas where protective measures were failing and in need of repair, and located and reported injured wildlife in need of care.
The valuable information provided by these volunteers helped change the Coast Guard’s position on the role of volunteers in oil spill response. Today, the Coast Guard embraces volunteers and includes their assistance in the Emergency Response Plan for the Delaware River.
In 2008, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network used experience gained during the Athos I incident to help create the Oil Spill Toolkit to guide citizens monitoring oil spills and other emergencies.