What to know about shoreline cleanup

Social IssuesEnvironment

  • Author Don Milne
  • Published January 31, 2018
  • Word count 629

The process of a shoreline cleanup will vary from one instance to another depending on the type of waste spilt and the severity of it.

Albeit no two spills are the same, the one thing in common for all spills is the difficulty of cleaning any spills containing oil residues. Essentially, any shoreline cleanup involving oil spills is nothing short of a messy business.

When waste spills into the water or if an oil pipeline sporadically ruptures, spill responders focus on the primary objective of containing the spill source to prevent further leaking and spreading of the waste.

This is particularly prominent in oil spills due to the disastrous effects oil spills have on the natural ecosystem as was witnessed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Factors such as weather conditions and water currents are also taken into consideration due to the overwhelming effect these may have on containment booms and other spill response strategies.

The negative effect of external factors may result in escaping oil reaching shorelines close to and far from the initial location of the spill.

Other considerations include the type of spills such as the specific type of oil, the conditions of the local environment, habitats of the shoreline, access routes to the shore, safety precautions, and logistic arrangements.

Due to the wide range of variables influencing the shoreline cleanup strategy, spill responders are required to assess the situation thoroughly and make a logical and practical decision based on their assessment.

In most spill instances, a combination of different shoreline cleanup methods will be used in order to tackle the cleanup process effectively.

  1. Shoreline Flushing

This cleanup method utilises water to flush out stranded oil left on the shoreline. This will help remove it or refloat it into the water of which it is easier to recover as slick. When flushing the shoreline, it is critical that both water pressure and the temperature is monitored accordingly to avoid causing more damage to the shoreline as was witnessed in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

  1. Containment Booms

Containment booms are essentially long floating barriers that are placed to contain spills off the beach or to collect oil which has been flushed from the shoreline before it disperses into the waters.

  1. Industrial Vacuums

These large vacuums are used to suction spilt oil from the beach or shoreline to prevent harm done to the shoreline ecosystem.

  1. Sorbents

Sorbents are a specialised material which takes the form of square pads or long booms and are engineered to only absorb oil and not water.

  1. Cleaners and Bioremediation Agents

Although there are various different types of chemical cleaners that can assist in oiled shoreline cleanups, many of these require special approval before implementation. Shoreline cleaners such as surface washing agents can be used to soften the oil off of surfaces such as docks, rocks, and riprap. Bioremediation agents act as fertilizers that assist in catalysing the natural microbial degradation process.

It should be noted that the conventional cleanup methods using booms and sorbents are typically used as a first line of response to oil spills with the alternative measures coming secondary.

  1. Controlled Burning

Where there is freshly spilt oil floating on the surface of the water or on marsh vegetation, some spill responders may perform controlled burns.

  1. Manual Recovery

This form of shoreline cleanup is highly labour intensive due to the manual use of buckets, shovels, rakes, and other tools that can help remove any oil residue from the shoreline. Manual recovery is often the first line of response when access routes are difficult for larger equipment to access.

  1. Mechanical Removal

Where access routes to the shoreline are possible without causing excessive damage to the shoreline, heavy machinery may be brought to assist in the removal of oil residue in bulk.

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Article comments

John · 2 months ago
Hi Don, I really enjoyed this article on shoreline clean ups. It's not a nice topic and every time I see it has happened on the news I often get frustrated because I think a lot of the time it could have been avoided. Thanks for sharing