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Local shores closed to public

The District of Squamish is warning the public to stay away from Nexen Beach, the Squamish estuary and the windsurf spit because of hazardous "rogue oil" or "tar balls". "It's a precaution," said Acting Mayor Mike Jenson.

The District of Squamish is warning the public to stay away from Nexen Beach, the Squamish estuary and the windsurf spit because of hazardous "rogue oil" or "tar balls".

"It's a precaution," said Acting Mayor Mike Jenson. "Every day that goes by these tar balls will be diminished and will be cleaned up. Environment Canada and the Coast Guard are going to ensure that everything is absolutely cleaned up to their satisfaction before they let [cleanup company] Burrard Clean leave the area."

Environmentalists are taking the precautions one step further, however, saying people and pets should avoid all Howe Sound water for a week.

"We're seeing all the various - what they're calling 'tar balls' floating all over the Sound," said Edith Tobe of the Squamish Watershed Society. "I've seen these tar balls all the way down the Mamquam Blind Channel past the yacht club to the railroad bridge. Dog's fur will act as a giant sponge and pick up these little bits."

The warnings come despite a Canadian Coast Guard claim that no coastline other than the one-kilometre stretch immediately surrounding Squamish Terminals had been impacted from the Westwood Anette's leak.

Coast Guard Response Superintendent Don Rodden said all free-floating oil slicks had been removed or contained by Tuesday (Aug. 8), and two-thirds of the remaining contamination - which he said is limited to an area immediately adjacent to the ship - was cleaned up.

Tobe said that she was impressed with the level and efficiency of cleanup efforts, but more could be done for the shoreline and marsh meadow.

"I really feel they need more people, trained people, doing this work. They've got about 100 people on the ground. It sounds like a lot but it's a pittance compared to the area they have to cover."

Low tides are uncovering areas in need of cleanup until Saturday (Aug. 12) and Tobe hopes her offer to bring in a trained crew of volunteer cleaners will be accepted.

Residents have regularly spotted oil-stained and oil-covered geese since the spill and Canadian Wildlife Services has been unable to capture the estimated 60 to 100 contaminated birds, according to spokesperson Ken Roth.

Tobe said she's resigned herself to the fact that there is no way to save the contaminated birds.

"It's a sad reality and it's difficult to digest for the public that are very concerned and want to do something and see some action," she said.

But the resignation may have come a little early. On Thursday morning, Focus Wildlife, an emergency resource development group hired by shipping company Gearbulk, began recovering contaminated and sick birds and bringing them to the Oceanfront Development building on the Nexen lands.

By mid afternoon, the group had collected several birds, which they'll bring to Vancouver to rehabilitate in a process spokesperson Chris Battagla calls "very involved."

Battagla said many, but not all of the recovered birds can be saved.

Oil-covered birds will become sick for a variety of reasons, said Roth. The oil compromises water solubility and the ability to regulate their body temperature, causing hypothermia, and toxic shock is caused from preening. Birds and fish will also suffer from loss of habitat with the removal of oil-soaked logs and the cutting back of grass.

Tobe said she and other involved stakeholders have had numerous calls from the public expressing concerns regarding the fate of the estuary and wildlife and offering to help. "Right now, those people are being directed to the hotline and many of them will be contacted to get training and lend a hand to get this oil-coated meadow material out of there," said Tobe. "I really would like to encourage as many people who are interested to get their names down."

Rodden said cleanup efforts to date have not involved volunteers because the more people walk along the contaminated shore, the more oil embeds itself into the sediment, causing the need for deeper scraping to remove it.

Brian Clarke of the BC Ministry of Environment said the responsible shipping company will have to hire wildlife experts to monitor the estuary's rehabilitation over the next five years.

"The responsible party doesn't just walk away at the end," said Clarke. "They're going to have a monitoring program I'd say for at least five years to make sure that things do indeed rebound."

Tobe asked that individuals who find dead birds call the hotline before scavengers eat the contaminated bird. Jenson also encouraged residents to use the hotline.

"We'd like people to continue to observe, record and report any wildlife in distress or any sightings of oil at 604-815-5077 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m."

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