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  • Oil Pollution & Recreational Boaters

    Oil in the water spreads quickly

    Photo Credit: Common Good Productions

    Large ships aren’t the only culprits when it comes to oil pollution.

    Recreational boaters also contribute. Small spills caused by overfilled fuel tanks, leaky outboard motors, and oily bilges may not seem like a big deal, but drop by drop, they can do serious harm to fish, birds, and other wildlife.

    To learn more about the impact of small amounts of oil, see the science of oil pollution

    Just a few gallons accidentally spilled over the side of a small boat can quickly create a slick the size of an entire marina.

    Oil floating on the water decreases the amount of light that can penetrate the water, which in turn decreases the amount of oxygen that underwater plants can create.

    Oil isn’t just harmful to underwater creatures – it can also do serious harm to fish embryos and young shore birds.

    Oil can coat feathers, destroying insulation, and it can poison birds if they ingest it while preening.

    Dish soaps like Dawn are used when cleaning oiled animals affected by a spill, but they should never be added directly to the marine environment.

    If you spill oil in the water, never use dish soap to make it disappear. Using dish soap dispersants does not get rid of the spill, it simply causes the oil to disappear from sight by breaking it down into smaller droplets. This makes the spill harder to clean up and ultimately more toxic because of the additional chemicals.

    Boaters aren’t always aware when their engines leak

    Photo Credit: Jennifer Smits / FEMA

    There are a number of ways that your boat could be releasing oil into the water.

    One significant source is the use of older two-stroke engines. Two-stroke outboard engines are very inefficient and can discharge unburned fuel or oil directly into the water. According to a European study by the Local Authorities International Environmental Organization, at high speeds, this can represent a waste of 20- 30% of the fuel being used. At lower speeds, emissions can reach 40%. Save on fuel costs and protect marine life by upgrading to a four-stroke engine.