Point Reyes Bird Observatory, Observer 108

Oil Spill News Flash

In October 1996, an oil spill at the San Francisco dry docks poured about 8,000 gallons of bunker C fuel oil into San Francisco Bay. Initial efforts to contain and collect the oil were only partially successful. The spill broke up into many small slicks that spread over much of the bay, out the Golden Gate, and along the coast.

PRBO was called by the California's Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) office to aid in wildlife response. We coordinated with volunteer Beach Watch crews of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary to survey local Marin and San Francisco county beaches. PRBO formed several teams to look for oiled birds, collect dead birds, and record bird populations along the beaches. Grant Ballard, with help from Bill Sydeman, Michelle Hester, and Tom Gardali, coordinated this part of our reponse. Interns at Palomarin formed the census crews, employing their extensive field experience in bird identification.

Gary Page initiated a study of Snowy Plovers along San Francisco's Ocean Beach to determine how many of this threatened species may have been exposed and the potential impact of the spill.

This unfortunate event provided a test of preparedness on the part of agencies and organizations involved in oil spill response in California. Working with OSPR on an ongoing basis, PRBO maintains a response team whose role is to document evidence of oiling through measurements of oiled birds along beaches. In the event of a large spill, OSPR relies upon PRBO's team to help assess the overall impacts and often to furnish critical data for ensuing litigation.


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