Because oil spills are particularly hazardous to birds and some of their most precious habitat, Audubon California has long been opposed to any new offshore oil drilling in California. We need to look no further than last week’s oil spill at Refugio State Beach, which dumped as much as 105,000 gallons of oil on the beach and into the waters near Santa Barbara, to see the toll that oil spills can take on birds, other wildlife, and habitat. While the Refugio spill was from an onshore pipeline, and not a well, it nonetheless shows the risk we take putting oil facilities so close to habitat.
And that’s why Audubon California has supported Assembly Bill 788, the California Coastal Protection Act, since it was introduced earlier this year. Authored by State Senator Mike McGuire and State Senator Hannah Beth, the bill seeks to forever protect California’s coast from new offshore oil development in state waters by closing a loophole in the Coastal Sanctuary Act that currently would allow the State Lands Commission to grant new leases for offshore oil and gas development.
Apparently, things haven’t improved at Coal Oil Point, where a group of volunteers is trying to protect a breeding colony of Western Snowy Plovers from the oil spill at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara. Apparently, now a number of plovers show evidence of oil. Here’s the latest update from Cristina Sandoval, preserve manager at Coal Oil Point:
Just as I thought we were spared, yesterday evening, after my update, we started smelling more oil. By sunrise this morning the beach seemed to have more oil than ever. A crew of 5 started cleaning it up with rakes and by hand and putting the oil blobs and oiled kelp in plastic bags, and then hauling them uphill, also by hand. It was hard work, and by the end of the day, we realized we only did a small portion of the beach. The high tide in the evening brought more oil everywhere including areas that had already been cleaned. It seemed a worthless effort but, if the oil is not cleaned, it will be buried and continue to release toxic chemicals. In total, we have seen 3 plovers with oil on the feathers but, at a closer look, Suzanne, one of our docents and photographer, noticed that many of them had oil in their beaks.
We’ve heard from Cristina Sandoval at the Coal Oil Point Reserve in Santa Barbara that, while oil from the nearby oil spill at Refugio State Park has been light at the reserve, and even dwindling, there has been at least two Threatened Western Snowy Plovers affected by the oil. In a past post, we expressed concern that the Threatened Western Snowy Plovers at Coal Oil Point Preserve in Santa Barbara would be affected by the oil spill that started north of there at Refugio State Park. In a Facebook post, Sandoval says on the reserve Facebook page that in addition to two plovers spotted with oil, one pelican and one young sea lion, were spotted and rescued, as well.
Here’s the latest information we have on the oil spill, from state officials:
In response to the oil spill at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara, state and federal officials have activated something called the Unified Incident Command System which the government organizes to respond to major disasters, such as earthquakes and wildfires. This command is estimating that as much as 105,000 gallons of oil spilled from the pipeline, only a fraction of which entered the ocean.
Reportedly, eight oiled pelicans are being treated. Five birds have been found dead, including a Red-Throated Loon, grebes, and gulls. There have been two oiled juvenile sea lions, one oiled young elephant seal, and one or two oiled dolphins. (It looks as though one of the sea lions has died). It is believed that the highest wildlife mortality likely will be fish and invertebrates living in the kelp forests affected by the spill. More details are at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network website.
Crude oil from a ruptured pipeline at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara has moved south to Coal Oil Point Reserve, where threatened Western Snowy Plovers are in the middle of their nesting season. The Santa Barbara Audubon Society, which has been working closely with the reserve on protecting the birds, is standing by to help in any way it can.
“I was out there yesterday, and I was pretty optimistic at that point that the oil wouldn’t reach Coal Oil Point,” said Santa Barbara Audubon Society co-president Steve Ferry. “But things changed overnight.”
Representatives of Audubon California today called on state agencies to fully investigate the cause of the oil spill that has blackened Santa Barbara beaches and is killing an unknown number of birds and other wildlife. Also at issue is the fact that officials reportedly alerted to the spill by a private citizen walking the beach rather than the operators of the pipeline that ruptured, spilling as much as 105,000 gallons of crude oil onto the beach and nearby ocean.
Photo of short-tailed albatross by Ron LeValley. Mendocino Coast, 2012.
Earlier this month, NOAA Fisheries, which shares responsibility for protecting our seabirds, and other partners including Dr. Ed Melvin at Washington Sea Grant, won the 2015 Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award recognizing a very successful program to save albatrosses and other seabirds. The award is based on the passage of important new federal regulations designed to protect the critically endangered short-tailed albatross, as well as the black-footed and Laysan albatross and other seabirds. The regulations, requiring larger vessels to use bird-scaring streamer lines and other techniques in order to keep birds from becoming hooked and drowning on longlines, are a major step forward in securing the future of these beautiful seabirds.
“Anytime you have oil spilled into the marine ecosystem it’s a major threat for birds and other wildlife. As we learned in the Gulf Spill, and in the 1969 spill not far from the site of this current spill, even a tiny amount of oil can kill a bird. The sad truth is that birds are going to suffer and die from this, and the fact that it was totally avoidable makes it even worse.
California’s beaches, including the wildlife and recreational opportunities they support, are a major part of our state’s identity. Time and time again we’re reminded that the benefits of putting oil so close to our natural treasures are never worth the risk.
Audubon California will be monitoring the situation closely and offering whatever help we can to protect birds and other wildlife.”
California Gov. Jerry Brown today signed a first-of-its-kind agreement with international leaders from 11 other states and provinces, collectively representing more than $4.5 trillion in GDP and 100 million people, to limit the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius – the warming threshold at which scientists say there will likely be catastrophic climate disruptions. With 170 California birds at risk of extinction over the coming decades due to global warming, this can only help.
America’s strongest and most important law for protecting wildlife, the Endangered Species Act, is under a coordinated assault. Since January, Audubon has tracked more than 30 bills and amendments that have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate that would dismantle the Act, including eight extreme bills in the Senate that received a hearing last week.