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10-year anniversary of San Francisco Bay’s Cosco Busan oil spill a cautionary tale amid push for more oil drilling

Thousands of birds died and shorelines were blackened after 53,000 gallons of oil spilled following Nov. 7, 2007 accident

San Francisco Bay, Calif. – With the arrival of the tenth anniversary of the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, representatives of Audubon California called the disaster a cautionary tale for those who would further expose our most valuable waters and shores to risks associated with oil drilling and transportation. The November 2007 accident killed thousands of birds and blackened shorelines throughout the region.

“If there’s anything we learned ten years ago in San Francisco Bay, it’s that one small mistake can quickly kill a lot of birds and destroy places we care about deeply,” said Andrea Jones, Audubon California’s director of bird conservation. “Now that the federal government is pushing for new drilling, it’s important to remember what’s at risk.”

The anniversary of San Francisco Bay’s worst oil spill comes as the Trump Administration pushes for increased oil drilling off the California coast. At his direction, the Commerce Department just completed a report outlining potential changes to allow oil drilling within national marine sanctuaries – including the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary just off the Golden Gate Bridge. The Department of Interior is currently studying removing restrictions on new offshore drilling on the outer continental shelf.

The Nov. 7, 2007, collision of the container ship Cosco Busan into a support tower of the Bay Bridge caused the release of more than 53,000 gallons of highly-destructive bunker fuel into the bay. The spill affected people, estuarine and marine wildlife, habitats, and recreation across several counties and spurred an extensive spill response effort and ongoing natural resource restoration work.

“Almost immediately following the spill, there were reports of dead and dying birds in the Bay,” added Jones. “Although the impacts of any oil spills are broad, images of dead birds are almost always the first and most enduring image of these disasters.”

In the days following the spill, staff at the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary swung into action to respond to the potential damage that the rapidly spreading oil slick might do to the sanctuary’s bird populations and habitat. The spill happened right in the middle of winter migration, meaning that it took place at the worst time and the worst place imaginable, as millions of waterbirds were arriving from the Arctic and Boreal forests to either spend the winter in San Francisco Bay or were stopping to rest and feed during their annual migration to central or South America – only to encounter oily water.

In the days following the spill, Audubon California staff observed that a large number of birds in Richardson Bay were using Aramburu Island, owned by Marin County, as a refuge from toxic waters. That observation prompted Audubon to launch a project to turn the barren island, created from dredge spoils years earlier, into much-needed habitat for birds and other wildlife. Funded partially through oil spill reparations, the project created a suite of habitats for a range of local species, and stabilized the rapidly eroding eastern shoreline, and help the island and surrounding communities adapt to sea level rise. Construction was completed by November of 2012. 

“It’s been amazing to see this island come to life,” said Jones. “We’ve seen Black Oystercatchers nesting there for the first time, as well as dozens of birds making use of the new habitat.”

San Francisco Bay has been designated an Important Bird Area of Global Significance by Audubon because it hosts well over a million birds annually and some of the last remaining wetlands in California. It is host to the largest shorebird concentration on the US Pacific Coast.

About Audubon California 

Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 350,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society.

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