The state is trying to find the source of motor oil that left a thin sheen on the waters surrounding Hamakua Marsh in Kailua.
The spill was discovered Friday morning. It's feared that it could harm several species of birds that inhabit the 22-acre wildlife sanctuary.
"This would be loaded with birds walking here, coots swimming over there, ducks," said Shawne Garliepp, who has worked at the Creekside Lounge, next to the marsh, for 35 years. So she noticed when the birds were staying out of the stream. That's when she saw the oily sheen on the water.
"The birds are not acting the way they usually do," she said. "They're not where they usually are, they're hanging out farther away. And we just hope that they're not ingesting any of this oil, because its bad."
The marsh attracts several bird species, like ducks, cattle egrets, and the auku'u, or black-crowned night heron. But it also is home to several endangered species, like the ae'o, or Hawaiian stilt, the 'alae'ula, or Hawaiian moorhen, and the 'alae ke'oke'o, or Hawaiian coot.
The state called in Pacific Environmental Corporation, which deployed several booms on the stream to contain and absorb the spill.
Samples were taken from the stream, confirming that the sheen came from a thin film of motor oil.
"The source? We cannot say it came from the street," said Terry Corpus, an on-scene coordinator with the state Department of Health. "The storm drains look clean when we opened them up, so the source is unknown at this time."
"I don't know if they'll ever find out who did it," said Carroll Cox of Envirowatch. "But if they were to be caught, I'd like to see a stiff penalty to discourage this kind of behavior."
There were no signs that any birds had become ill or had died because of the oil Friday afternoon. Authorities said it was likely the oil would dissipate and evaporate by Saturday. While most of the birds stayed out of the water, there were still some going in.
"I pray to god that they're nesting, they're mating right now, that none of the babies die or the birds die," said Garliepp. "We'll keep an eye on them. We do every day."