Snowy plovers able to survive 2007 oil spill nearly unscathed

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Snowy plovers largely survived an oil spill massacre that devastated bird populations more seriously than previously reported, according to a federal study.

Nearly 6,700 ducks, loons, cormorants, gulls, pelicans and other birds were likely killed by the toxic fuel that gushed out of the Cosco Busan’s hulls Nov. 7, 2007, after the container ship was piloted in heavy fog into a Bay Bridge support tower, according to a new report.

The death toll was determined by multiplying the known bird body count by a factor of roughly 2.3.

The 2.3 figure was determined by studying how long bird carcasses persisted on beaches, how difficult they were to find and how many of the deaths were caused by factors unrelated to the oil spill.

But nearly all Bay Area snowy plovers — tiny white-and-brown birds that nest in sand dunes and are listed federally as a threatened species — survived the devastation, according to the findings.

Results of a two-year study that tagged and monitored oiled and nonoiled snowy plovers after the accident suggest that “nearly all survived the spill,” the report said.

The study, which will form the basis of restoration plans that must be funded by maritime companies linked to the spill, concluded that 2,996 acres of coastline were exposed to oil.

The maritime companies linked to the spill do not agree with all the study’s findings, the report said.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

Oil spill’s avian toll

Birds killed due to Nov. 7, 2007, Cosco Busan accident in the Bay:

1,632 Diving ducks, including scoters and scaup

87 Loons

1,133 Western, Clark’s and other large grebes

494 Eared, horned and other small grebes

129 Northern fulmars

484 Cormorants

215 Gulls

21 Brown pelicans

609 Common murres

13 Marbled murrelets

130 Other members of the alcid family

1,421 Shorebirds

318 Other marsh or land birds

6,688 Total

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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