A flock of Canada geese dropped into the Indian River and hit an oily emission from the NRG Indian River Power Plant near Millsboro on Sept. 8, and while the 30,000-gallon diesel fuel leak was contained on NRG property by booms and other means, that containment did not include prevention of flyovers and landings by birds.

After the spill, more than 110 resident Canada geese were taken to Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark for “de-oiling” treatment — which includes not only washing oil from their feathers but also cleansing their digestive tracts from the oil. The birds preen and ingest small amounts of the spilled material, so they must be fed several cycles of grains to restore their digestive systems.

Despite that effort, NRG spokesman Dave Schrader confirmed late on Wednesday, Sept. 22, that at least 90 of the birds had died.

“NRG deeply regrets the impact this spill has had on a resident flock of Canada geese,” he said. “NRG is very appreciative of the Tri-State Bird Rescue and the Department of Natural Resources for managing that portion of the response. According to the Tri-State Bird Rescue, dozens of geese have been or soon will be released back into the wild. At least 90 geese have died.”

“NRG takes protecting the environment and complying with all environmental regulations seriously,” Schrader said. “The emergency response related to the diesel fuel spill is complete, and we are in the process of remediating the spill. The vast majority of the material has been recovered and removed.

“We remain confident the fuel was confined to our property and has not entered waterways or public lands,” he said. “We will continue to work closely with multiple agencies to ensure the spill is completely cleaned up and that there are no additional impacts.”

Maya van Rossum is the leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and an author and attorney who supports environmental initiatives in the state. She said she hopes Sussex County residents and everyone along the Indian River watershed understands the bigger implications of dependence on fossil fuels and the NRG coal-fired energy plant, which was slated to be shuttered in June 2022 but may now remain open longer, while upgrades are made to the regional electrical grid.

“It’s a common narrative when we have a spill, large or small, that there is a great deal of interest and concern initially,” said van Rossum. “People may have a heart-wrenching moment when we see birds covered in oil. The state agencies talk about immediate response, then it all goes away or interest peters out.”

People need to see the long-term and cumulative impact of oil spills on nature, she said.

“We have had lots of spills across our Delaware watershed system. The oil gets into the sand, impacts the food-chain critters, or comes back to the shoreline as tarballs. Diesel is a toxic chemical” to the ecosystem, she emphasized.

The Delaware Riverkeeper also noted that some residents may dismiss resident Canada geese as a nuisance bird, and may be less concerned with the environmental impact to a species that is so plentiful.

“We need to see these populations as a sign of our over-development in the region,” said van Rossum. “We create giant lawns and landscaping along the waterways,” like Indian River, she said, which invites the geese to feed. “Waterways need native vegetation, plants and riparian buffers” to allow waterfowl to nest or migrate, she urged.

“Geese are an indicator that there is a toxic impact on the system. Something is wrong,” she said. “It’s like the canary in the coal mine” as a harbinger of environmental health.

“Migratory shorebirds will also be threatened,” said van Rossum. “The horseshoe crab populations in the Delaware Bay will also be threatened. Even down to the little bugs (benthic community) underneath the river water, which is worrisome in this case; we need to maintain a natural ecosystem.”

Earlier in her career, van Rossum served as a volunteer at the Tri-State Bird Rescue. She noted that the Delaware community is fortunate to have Tri-State to rescue these geese and other birds.

“Bird rescue requires training. You must know the right way to restore the bird. When they preen, they will eat or consume the oil. The contaminant soaks into their skin, so it becomes an ‘outside and an inside’ issue. The biologists and rescue team will feed the geese to flush their systems” before attempting to return them to Indian River or other waterways.

Speaking of the entire Delaware Watershed, van Rossum suggested residents call their local newspapers to report any such incidents. The Coastal Point received a photo of the geese and online comment as to the spill’s impact upon them. Citizen watchdogs can also call their regional and state legislators. She encouraged people to join the Delaware Riverkeeper Network to learn about native landscapes and ecosystem work on shorelines like Indian River.

“The person who contacted your newspaper is a hero,” said van Rossum. “You have to do what is right for you” to get involved. “It is so powerful that one person was mindful in this case. It is so often true that one person’s activism can make all the difference.”

Extracted in full from: Nearly 100 Canada geese dead after power-plant fuel spill | News | coastalpoint.com