Please note: You are viewing the unstyled version of this website. Either your browser does not support CSS (cascading style sheets) or it has been disabled. Skip navigation.

Fuel Barge Florida

   Print Change text to small (default) Change text to medium Change text to large

Location: Buzzards Bay, off West Falmouth, Mass.
Date: September 16, 1969

Lat./Long.: 41°35'57.60"N, 70°41'47.88"W
Material spilled: No. 2 fuel oil
Amount spilled: 189,000 gallons
Spill extent: **

barge Florida

Enlarge Image

United States Coast Guard officers talking with barge Florida. (Photo courtesy WHOI Archives)

When the fuel barge Florida struck a reef in September 1969 it spilled about 4,000 barrels of No. 2 home heating oil into the coastal waters of Buzzards Bay. The spill was small by many standards and received very little media attention, but four decades later, hydrocarbons remain buried in marsh sediments and continue to influence the health and function of physical, chemical, and biological processes there. Work to study the spill has also had a profound effect on scientific understanding of how oil affects the ocean that continues to be felt today.

The spill heavily oiled one small cove in West Falmouth, Mass., near Woods Hole and the oceanographers at WHOI. That cove, Wild Harbor, has become the focus of more than 40 years of scientific research into the physical, chemical, and biological impacts of oil spills on coastal and near-shore ecosystems. Those efforts represent the first comprehensive, quantitative, and peer-reviewed studies into how oil affects the marine environment, including the transport and persistence of contaminants, the long-term health of plant and animal communities, and the very shape of an oiled coastline decades after a spill.

Scientists from WHOI and elsewhere continue to visit Wild Harbor to look for clues to how other oil spills might play out in the environment over years to come.

Culbertson, JB, I Valiela, M Pickart, EE Peacock, and CM Reddy, “Long-term consequences of residual petroleum on salt marsh grass,” Journal of Applied Ecology 45(2008): 1284-1292.

Culbertson, JB, I Valiela, EE Peacock, CM Reddy, A Carter, and R VanderKruik, “Long-term biological effects of petroleum residues on fiddler crabs in salt marshes,” Marine Pollution Bulletin 54(2007): 955-962.

White, HK, L Xu, ALC Lima, TI Eglinton, and CM Reddy, “Abundance, composition, and vertical transport of PAHs in marsh sediments,” Environmental Science & Technology 39(2005): 8273-8280.

Peacock, EE, RK Nelson, AR Solow, JD Warren, JL Baker, and CM Reddy, “The West Falmouth oil spill: similar to 100 Kg of oil found to persist decades later,” Environmental Forensics 6(2005): 273-281.

Slater, GF, HK White, TI Eglinton, and CM Reddy, “Determination of microbial carbon sources in petroleum contaminated sediments using molecular C-14 analysis,” Environmental Science & Technology 39(2005): 2552-2558.

Reddy, CM, TI Eglinton, A Hounshell, HK White, L Xu, RB Gaines, and GS Frysinger, “The
west Falmouth oil spill after thirty years: The persistence of petroleum hydrocarbons in marsh sediments,” Environmental Science & Technology 36(2002): 4754-4760.

Teal, JM, JW Farrington, KA Burns, JJ Stegeman, BW Tripp, B Woodin, and C Phinney, “The West Falmouth oil spill after 20 years: Fate of fuel oil compounds and effects on animals,”  Marine Pollution Bulletin 24(1992): 607-614.

Sanders, HL, JF Grassle, GR Hampson, LS Morse, S Garnerprice, and CC Jones, “Anatomy of an oil spil: Long-term effects from the grounding of the barge Florida off West Falmouth, Massachusetts,” Journal of Marine Research 38(1980): 265-380.

Sanders, HL, “Florida oil spill impact on Buzzards Bay benthic fauna,” Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 35(1978): 717-730.

Wertenbacher, W, "A small spill," New Yorker, November 26, 1973, 48-79.

From Oceanus Magazine
April 23, 2007
Still Toxic After All These Years
Does oil spilled in 1969 still have impacts on wildlife? Ask a fiddler crab.
Source: Oceanus Magazine

Oil in Our Coastal Back Yard October 13, 2004
Oil in Our Coastal Back Yard
An oil spill on WHOI's shores set the stage for advances in the science of cleaning up
Source: Oceanus Magazine

A Local Spill Revisited A Local Spill Revisited
By John Teal, Oceanus magazine, 1993
(pdf format)

A Local Spill Local Spill
By George Hampson and Howard Sanders, Oceanus magazine, 1969
(pdf format)

Science in a Time of Crisis: Chatper 1 Science in a Time of Crisis, Chapter 1: Oil Spill Pioneers
WHOI's Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Lessons from an old oil spill Lessons from an Old Oil Spill
From The New York Times

Last updated: July 28, 2014

whoi logo

Copyright ©2007 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, All Rights Reserved, Privacy Policy.
Problems or questions about the site, please contact
Contact | Site Map | Support WHOI Research
WHOI Facebook WHOI You TubeWHOI Twitter