Local wildlife and environmental professionals, like Nancy Richie, are fielding questions from citizens about whether something strange they saw on the beach was oil or not. Even with the capping of the leaking well, there is still a lot of oil remaining to be cleaned, so we expect oil to stay very much in public consciousness. Happily, the Marco Island Fire Department is patrolling for oil every day in a little all-terrain cart, so Marco’s beaches are being checked. But, because everyone is extra-vigilant, keep in mind two things.
First, there are lots of strange things on the beach. People might see various types of tunicates that look superficially like tar balls or oil. Tunicates are primitive animals such as sea pork and sea squirts. They can be dark gray or blackish in color, look and feel rubbery, and seem shiny when wet. They’re harmless to touch and have simply washed ashore due to winds and tides. As adults they pump water through their simple bodies to filter feed; as larvae they float in the water column and develop a (very) primitive spinal cord, making them our (very) distant vertebrate relatives!
Second, there are phone numbers you can call if you find real oil or tar balls (there’s no need to notify anyone about tunicates). To report oiled shoreline, call (866) 448-5816. To report oiled wildlife, call (866) 557-1401. These numbers are on your “Important Numbers” sheet as well.
Happy stewarding this weekend!