The diesel fuel puddled up against the sides of the dock. Its reddish pink hue almost made it look drinkable—like someone had accidentally spilled a huge raspberry smoothie.
But when boat captain Kevin Moak got to the harbor on Tuesday morning, he saw the diesel puddle and knew there wasn’t much time.
The fuel was coagulated in a holding ditch behind Harbor Docks, where storm water from the highway is drained into the harbor through a series of pipes.
An impending storm would expel water from the highway’s drainage pipes, overflowing the diesel-filled ditch and sending the fuel into the harbor.
Moak started to make phone calls, springing into action. He estimated that there was about 25-30 gallons of fuel threatening to spill out into the open water.
"I called the city first but never heard back from them, so I called the Coast Guard. The pollution response team is located in Panama City, so they had to drive all the way up from there," Moak said.
In the meantime, Moak drove to Ace Hardware and picked up a few oil pads in the hopes that they would help suck up some of the oil, but he didn’t have enough make a dent.
Marine Safety Technician 3rd Class Dillon Lyons responded to the scene with his crew as the storm rolled in.
"My first thoughts upon arriving on scene were to quickly assess the discharge, identify a source, and determine a responsible party," Lyons said.
But a few minutes after arriving, it began to pour.
The water rushed out of the storm drain, overflowing the ditch that held the diesel fuel. The fuel mixed with the storm water and spread throughout the harbor, pushing further away from shore.
"It was too late." Moak said. "There was nothing anyone could have done at that point."
The diesel spread throughout the harbor, creating a slick, rainbow sheen across the water.
"The biggest issue with oil in the waterways is how it affects the environment," Lyons said. "Diesel, being lighter than water, will float on the surface until it is weathered or mixed. This negatively affects birds or other animals that may come to the surface of the water looking for food."
The cause of the diesel spill is unknown, but according to Lyons, a fuel spill is often the result of human error or mechanical malfunctions.