Hundreds of globs of an orange, grease-like substance washed ashore on Maury Island this week, prompting state officials to begin a cleanup effort.
Officials with the state Department of Ecology (DOE), noting that the incident is unusual, believe the globs may be a marine lubricant from a ship.
“If it breaks down, it gets into the environment, so they do need to get it removed,” said Larry Altose, a spokesman for the Department of Ecology. “The source is unknown at this point, but we're developing a plan to get it safely removed from the shoreline.”
The grease balls were reported to the state yesterday by Amy Carey, a local environmentalist and director of Preserve Our Island who heard the report from a Maury resident. The globs range in size from about an inch across to the size of an apple and are mostly at the high-tide line among driftwood and other debris. DOE has reported that the grease washed up on a two-mile stretch of shoreline between Point Robinson and the Maury Island Marine Park, and the agency is asking that people who see globs on any other beaches report the sighting immediately.
Yesterday DOE sent a crew to investigate and collect samples of the globs. The agency also set up a website advising people not to touch the orange balls and to contact the state if they discover balls along other stretches of shoreline.
“I would bet they were on the island within two hours of me calling them,” Carey said.
“Great kudos to Ecology, who got out here right away.”
Altose, with DOE, said the agency was working to organize a cleanup as soon as possible, but he couldn't say when it would begin. The agency is also working to determine where the grease came from. The petroleum-based solid could be a grease used on ship equipment, which is sometimes brightly colored to more easily detect leaks, Altose said.
“Many spills are related to problems with maintenance,” he said.
Altose said most of the spills DOE responds to involve oil in the water or oil sheens on the beach, not solid substances. Any cleanup will have to be done carefully, he said, and the state is asking that beach-goers not touch the globs.
“This a little bit unusual, so we're moving a little carefully. It's not a material we've had a tremendous amount of experience with,” he said.
Sightings of orange grease balls in areas not between Point Robinson and the Maury Island Marine Park should be reported to the state Department of Ecology at (425) 649-7000.