Editor’s note: The video above was originally published in May 2019 when the Department of Ecology was cleaning up an oil spill at the old Olympia Brewery.

SEATTLE - The power of air is helping the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) get closer to oil spills.

The WDFW purchased an airboat with a grant from the Department of Ecology so crews can better respond to oil spills. The boat also allows them to have better access to hard-to-reach areas for their aquatic weed management program.

An airboat has a flat bottom and moves by a large, caged propeller on the back of the boat so it can operate even in areas with little to no water at all.

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“This is solving two problems at once,” said Darcy Bird, oil spill preparedness planner for the Department of Ecology. “Fish and Wildlife needed an airboat, and we need airboat capability in the event of an oil spill. This helps both our departments.”

The airboat can rapidly move staff to areas that are difficult to access for spill responses so they can do site assessments, sampling efforts, and wildlife operations, Ecology said.

With the airboat, the WDFW oil spill team can develop strategies tailored to specific areas that are at risk.

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The airboat was used at the end of July to evaluate areas around Samish Bay. Ecology said the area “has a number of sensitive resources that may need protection during an oil spill.” 

“Samish Bay is so unique,” Bird said. "I’ve never had the opportunity to see eelgrass beds that closely.”

You can’t go into eelgrass beds with a typical boat because the boat’s propeller would get damaged along with harming the eelgrass bed.

“The airboat glides over everything effortlessly,” said Bird.