The recent oil spill within Delta National Wildlife Refuge south of Venice forced U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials on Saturday to close the portion of the refuge south of main pass.

An estimated 18,000 gallons of crude oil was released into the Delta Bend area of the refuge last Tuesday, and the closure was implemented to ensure the safety of the public and the cleanup personnel, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported. Closure of the area also establishes a clear work zone.

About 16 square miles has been impacted by the spill, refuge officials said.

More than 200 people and 50 vessels have been deployed to conduct and manage cleanup operations and environmental protection efforts, which include oil recovery and efforts to keep wildlife out of the impacted area.

Because wild animals under stress can be very dangerous, untrained people should not attempt to assist impacted wildlife. Instead, they should report the species and location of the animal to the toll free wildlife hotline at 877-424-5495.

When the spill was reported, Berry Brothers General Contractors was conducting dredging operations for ExxonMobil in the area of the spill. They notified the Coast Guard that oil was discharging into a canal located about 10 miles southeast of Venice.

Monitoring equipment detected the problem prior to notification by the Berry Brothers leading the pipeline operator to begin closing off the affected section of pipeline.  Emergency response actions and procedures were immediately initiated to minimize the environmental impact of the spill.

Another news release will be issued when cleanup operations are completed and the refuge is re-opened.