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Alert: this is a drill

Ostego Bay Foundation holds oil-spill recertification.

July 26, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

It's not every day rainbow-colored cereal is seen floating out in Estero Bay.

But during the Ostego Bay Environmental Response Oil Spill Co-op, it's a common occurrence.

Joanne Semmer, leader of the co-op, sprinkles the cereal in the water to simulate an oil or fuel spill. Like those substances, the cereal floats on the surface of the water. Unlike oil, though, it's a tasty snack for a sea gull.

Article Photos

Matt Persons of Fish-Tale Marina observes as a team of three boats creates a triangle around the boat “leaking” cereal to imitate a spill.

"Your people are trained and they can jump on the spill immediately instead of waiting for a contractor," Semmer said.

The co-op has been going on since 1992. The program certifies its students in oil spill prevention and response, and hosts re-certification classes as a refresher.

Many of the local marinas and marine services businesses send an employee or two to attend the course and receive certification. It's state law that a certified organization must be the first responders to a spill out on the water. Many of those certified organizations are for-profit, said Tom Gressman of the Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Control District. These organizations are expensive to deploy, but having the nonprofit co-op saves money.

Even if a business thinks there's potential for a spill such as repairwork on a boat the co-op can send equipment over.

"The co-op will bring equipment to you and stage it," Gressman said.

The course is 24 hours of classwork and a day in the water practicing drills. Recertification is an 8-hour class. As the leader, Semmer has to attend yearly recertifications by the University of Florida.

Last week, 22 trainees and re-certification students learned how to prevent spills and then how to contain them with simulated drills on the water. Using "booms," or floating barriers, the students learn to wrap this barrier around a spill or rope off a sensitive area, like the mangroves, to prevent contact.

"This is a real service to the area, and the community should be proud," said George Freeland, owner of Moss Marina.

Moss Marina and Fish-Tale Marina have purchased their own equipment so they can be ready, said Homer Naveja of Fish-Tale. He's been involved in the co-op for 23 years. In that time, he's only had to respond to two real spills. The advantage of having trained people on staff is, they're local and close by, he said. Waiting for another organization could mean hours that the oil has to spread through the water.

Matt Persons, another Fish-Tale captain, signed up for the first time this year,

"Oil spills can cause significant damage. It's important to be prepared," he said. "I look to protect our ecology and better help the community."

Semmer, who's been involved since the beginning, said she's responded to about 50 spills since 1992. Most of them were small-scale, but the biggest was a 10,000-gallon leak from a breached underground fuel tank.

"The training absolutely helped," she said. "You know exactly what to do."



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