People were warned to stay away as experts battled to clean up a crude oil spill that has affected beaches across the Fylde coast.
Clumps of black substance, which has left the sand reeking of fuel, began to wash up at Bispham at the weekend and has since been spotted as far south as North Pier, and as far north as Knott End.
The sea was ordered off limits at both Cleveleys and Bispham yesterday, while the Fleetwood to Knott End ferry service was also suspended because of the treacherous slipway.
And those who may have already come into contact with the oil and tar-like spots have been urged to seek immediate medical advice should they start to feel unwell.
Specialists believe the substance is crude oil came from a ship 18 miles off the north west coast last Monday, but say lab results expected back in the coming hours will bring more certainty.
It is not yet known whether the release was accidental or deliberate, but as decontamination units and beach workers fight to clear miles of coastguard of the spill, fears have been voiced for the Irish Sea’s thriving marine life.
There’s notices up right along the front warning people about taking their dogs on the beach
A number of dead birds were spotted among washed-up seaweeds by one dog walker, said to be cormorants by another man, while a dead porpoise was also investigated by the Coastguard.
That was found to be badly decomposed and not a victim of the spill, but former animal lecturer at Myerscough College John Vale said: “It could affect the whole ecosystem. Any spill is too big.”
Mr Vale, who lives in Blackpool, said the oil could kill off basic microscopic life, which in turn could impact on larger marine animals.
But he warned wintering birds in the Wyre estuary could also be affected, and said: “Fortunately we have beaches you can get vehicles on and get rid of the oil.
“If it’s not, and it’s already flowing into the estuary, it could severely affect the winter population of birds.”
A spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is leading the investigation into the spill, said it had not received any reports of wildlife washing up.
She said: “The incident is relatively contained and Braemar are on the scene leading with the clean-up operation.
“Locally, the local authorities are requesting that members of the public stay safe by staying well away from the area until the clean-up operation is complete.”
Posters were put up at Bispham warning of an ‘abnormal situation’, with people told not to bathe or paddle in the water there.
And A4-sized notices were also posted up at Wyre, including at Rossall beach, where there was no visible sign of a spill but a strong smell of fuel in the sand.
On Monday evening, it was still busy with dog walkers unaware of the pollution incident, while children were still playing on the beach at Cleveleys yesterday, despite chunks of oil lying in the sand nearby.
Wyre Council said it was urging people to avoid contact with ‘any visible oil or tar on the beach and in the water, to supervise children carefully, and keep your dog on a lead’.
“Short term exposure to skin may result in irritation so as a precaution members of the public are advised to avoid contact with the material,” it said in a statement.
“If you touch the tar balls and get oil on the skin, remove affected clothing and wash with soap and water for 10 minutes. If you feel unwell seek medical attention.”
Ferry skipper Tony Cowell said the Fleetwood/Knott End service could still be affected today, and added: “There is no way we would put passengers at risk. We were told not to think of operating until we’ve got the all clear.”
Allan Wilkinson, 68, watched on as a decontamination unit arrived to clean up the beach and slipway at Knott End yesterday.
He said a people in hi-viz were clearing solidified oil from the beach in clear bags, and said: “There’s notices up right along the front warning people about taking their dogs on the beach and taking their kids on; basically they are warning people to keep off. It’s worrying but it’s more annoying that we can’t go on the beach while it’s being cleaned up.”
Experts from Braemar Response, which has a history of working to clear up environmental disasters, were drafted in, with council cleaning staff also being tasked with shovelling up affected sand.