Oil spill 'tragedy for the bay'

Do not approach animals saturated in oil, wildlife officials are warning the public today. Not after 58,000 gallons of the toxic fuel spilled into the San Francisco Bay Wednesday, soaking more than a hundred creatures.

Twenty-one seabirds were receiving treatment early this afternoon, said the University of California, Davis Wildlife Health Center, which is leading several local agencies in the animal rescues.

Once the birds are plucked from the oily water or beaches, they are taken to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center in Cordelia, where they are first warmed and nourished before they are washed, according to UC Davis.

Although the number of animals threatened by this incident hasn't been determined, for every bird found washed ashore, an estimated 10 to 100 birds died at sea, said Jonna Mazet, a veterinarian at UC Davis.


See photos of the cleanup and rescue effort: “Oil Spill: Tragedy for the Bay


“This is a tragedy for the bay,” said David Lewis, the executive director of Save the Bay. “We're already seeing evidence of the damage. This is the largest oil spill in more than a decade, and it's essential that cleanup and response happen as quickly as possible.”

Lewis added that habitats are threatened both on the shoreline and in the water, and said those responsible for the spill should have to compensate for the loss.

The spill occurred when the left side of a 900-foot container ship crashed into a Bay Bridge tower at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and damaged two bumper tanks, which subsequently began leaking oil into the bay, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Anya Hunter.

Officials aboard the ship at the time of the crash estimated approximately 500 gallons had spilled, but further investigation determined a much greater amount of oil was in the water.

Because the oil in the water poses “potential health concerns,” officials closed more than 10 Bay Area beaches and cited numerous areas contaminated from the spill, said Hunter.

Rodeo, Blacksand, Kirby Cove, Fort Point, Baker, China, Crissy, Keller, Albany, Crown and East beaches are closed, and areas around Alcatraz Island, Point Bonita, Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, Ferry Point Pier, North Basin at Eastshore State Park, Middle Harbor Shoreline Park and Brooks Island Regional Preserve have been impacted by the oil.

A barrier of absorbent material, called boom, has been deployed at Hoffman Marsh Channel at Point Isabel and Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland in an effort to soak up the oil, according to the East Bay Regional

Park District.

In addition to the contaminated shorelines and waters, odor from the spilled oil is pungent in some areas, although local air quality is not affected by the spill, according to Mark Ross, chair of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

“The smell will dissipate fairly quickly; it's a volatile substance,” Ross said. “We don't in any way think that air quality will be affected, other than the unsavory odors you will smell in proximity to the oil.”

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti said by draining the tanks and checking the difference in amounts, officials established how much oil had escaped and immediately began cleaning the spill.

Special boats that scoop up oil but avoid water, called skimming vessels, are being used to recover the oil, according to Barry McFarland, a spokesman for the O'Brien's Group, an organization that renders aid for various emergencies such as large oil spills.

Five skimming vessels are in the bay. Three are recovering oil in the waters west of the Golden Gate Bridge, McFarland said.

Shoreline cleanup assessment teams are inspecting land affected by the oil to recommend appropriate cleanup techniques and necessities, according to McFarland.

Officials have administered drug and alcohol tests on the ship's pilot and navigation crew, Uberti said.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, Hunter said today.

The public is asked to call (985) 781-0804 to make any claims relating to the oil spill.

— Bay City News

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