Ecological impact of oil spill could last for
By Laura Dudnick
November 14, 2007
The ecological impact of Wednesday's 58,000-gallon oil spill
into the San Francisco Bay could last for decades, David Lewis,
executive director of Save the Bay, said yesterday.
"This is a disaster and a tragedy for the environment in
the bay," Lewis said.
In addition to the 1,000-plus birds - some of which are endangered
- reported dead or found saturated in oil since Wednesday, water
plants and marine life have been impacted by the spill as well,
according to Lewis.
The California Clapper Rail, a bird known for its shy instincts,
is among the endangered species living by the bay, Lewis said.
Other species of concern in the bay include salmon and herring
fish, according to Lewis.
Plant life is threatened as well, according to Lewis. Oil is
accumulating on tidal marsh and eelgrass, a type of underwater
grass that grows in shallow, sandy areas of the bay and serves
as a home for fish and a feeding area for birds, Lewis said.
"Oil smothers and sticks to the plants, and kills them,"
Lewis said. He added the underwater plants are more exposed to
the oil during low tide because the oil for the most part remains
on the surface of the water.
"(But) over time the oil can sink," Lewis said. "Then
it gets attached to heavier sediments like soil and sand. It collects
in globs and sinks to the bottom, where it affects habitats on
the bottom of the bay.
"In the places where the oil gets washed onto the shore
and it is not cleaned up, (the effects) can last for decades,"
However, though Wednesday's fuel spill is catastrophic for the
bay, oil is pumped into the waters every day from city storm drains,
according to Lewis.
"This is a big pulse of very toxic bunker fuel, but each
car in the Bay Area contributes a quart of oil into the bay every
year," Lewis said.
Good news for marine life, however, is that as of today "there
is not a lot of oil in the open water," Coast Guard Senior
Chief Keith Alholm said, referring to the fuel from Wednesday's
spill. Oil is now mainly impacting the beaches, he added.
Nearly a dozen Bay Area beaches remain closed as efforts to clean
the soiled shorelines are ongoing, according to the U.S. Coast
Guard. About 25 percent of residue has been cleaned from Angel
Island, RCA and Agate beaches, while Rodeo and Muir beaches have
been stripped of approximately 60 percent of oil product and Stinson
Beach is 80 percent clean, the Coast Guard reported yesterday.
Oil is about 20 percent cleared from the area around Fort Funston
in San Francisco. Baker and China beaches are both approximately
85 percent clean, and the area stretching from Pier 1 to Pier
39 is 100 percent clean, according to the Coast Guard.
Once the beaches are clear of oil, certification from local,
state and federal authorities is needed to ensure the areas are
safe before the beaches can be reopened, according to the Coast
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday suspended fishing for human
consumption while the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment
in consultation with the California Department of Public Health
examine whether consuming marine life caught in the oiled areas
is hazardous, according to the governor's office.
Fishing for human consumption will not be allowed from Thursday
until Dec. 1, or when the Department of Fish and Game and state
health officials determine fishing can resume, the governor's
The Bay Area's crab season, originally scheduled to begin Thursday,
was postponed when local crab fisherman voted on Saturday to officially
request the season be delayed.
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