Monday, November 12, 2007

Oil Spill Roundup

Western Grebe at Fort Baker

There has been more coverage of the oil spill in San Francisco Bay and its impact on birds. So far, workers have recovered 465 live and 196 dead birds. No doubt the number of birds affected is far higher than that. Many dead birds probably will not be found or recovered.

Rescue and treatment involves a stressful procedure.
Volunteer Devin Dombrowski held an angry loon, No. 239, who washed up at the Berkeley Marina. He carefully inserted a rectal thermometer, took a blood sample and then snipped off a small feather from under the wing. Data will be saved for use in future legal proceedings. Then he pried open its long beak and peered inside. ...

From there, the loon joined others in a warm and quiet nursery. He was placed in a wooden crib, draped with a bedsheet. Fans helped cleanse the room's heavy petroleum-scented air.

After a rest, he and other birds were fed and hydrated through a slender plastic feeding tube. They received nutrient-rich Ensure broth and electrolytes six to eight times each day.

Then each creature was sprayed off, dunked in a series of 12 baths of Dawn dishwashing solution and rinsed clean. One volunteer held the bird, stroking bubbles off its face. Another agitated the water around its small body, so not to break feathers.

Finally they were re-heated and fluffed with hair dryers, and returned to their cribs to rest.

After several days, when their strength returns, they will be moved to outdoor holding pools.
Residents mounted a volunteer effort to keep oil out of Bolinas Lagoon (on the Pacific Coast):
Bolinas Lagoon is a major winter migration destination, where birds flying south from Alaska and northern Canada reside during the rainy season. More than 100 species of birds and a colony of some 200 seals use the lagoon. The avian culture is so rich in the area that Audubon Canyon Ranch, a world-famous bird observatory, is next to the lagoon.

"It would be disastrous if oil got in here," said Janice Tweedy, a 57-year-old bird watcher from Bolinas, who stood on a road watching the workers. "We're all just amazed that we don't have more people out here."
Birding Sonoma County writes about the importance of the lagoon to migratory birds.

Regarding the crash itself, investigators have ruled out mechanical problems and consider the cause of the crash to be human error:
"One of the things we are looking at, as with any investigation with the weather conditions we saw specifically heavy fog would be what speed was the ship traveling and was that appropriate given the visibility at the time," Coast Guard Cmdr. Brendan McPherson said Sunday.

The Cosco Busan's collision with the bridge Wednesday left a gash nearly 100 feet long on the side of the 926-foot vessel and ruptured two of the vessel's fuel tanks, causing about 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel to leak into the bay. The spill has killed dozens of sea birds and spurred the closure of nearly two dozen beaches and piers.

Investigators were focusing on possible communication problems between the ship's crew, the pilot guiding the vessel and the Vessel Traffic Service, the Coast Guard station that monitors the bay's shipping traffic.
The captain piloting the Cosco Busan has a history of accidents:
Cota, 59, has been a bar pilot, guiding ships in and out of San Francisco Bay and its tributaries, for more than 25 years. Many mariners consider him an excellent ship handler.

But he has had four "incidents" involving an investigation by the Board of Pilot Commissioners in the past 14 years and has been "counseled" by pilot commission executives on several other occasions, documents show.
Ever since the Exxon Valdez disaster, oil tankers have been required to have double hulls to prevent spills like this. The article linked above points out that Cosco Busan was a single-hull ship since it was classified as a freighter. Perhaps the double-hull requirement should be extended to all oil-bearing ships.

A columnist for the Mercury News reviews potential dangers for ships entering and leaving the harbor and suggests areas where regulations could improve safety.

The Chronicle has set up a Google Map marked with the locations of closed beaches and cleanup efforts around the Bay Area.