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February 20, 2008 > Oil spill calls for restoration of bay area habitats

Oil spill calls for restoration of bay area habitats

By Sargunjot Kaur

Globs of thick goo coated the San Francisco Bay coastlines on Nov. 7, 2007 in the massive 58,000 gallon oil spill. The oil defiled miles of coastline wildlife habitats and animals, including birds, fish, invertebrates, and marine animals. The oil spill has cast a potential danger to the environment for many years to come. Currently, many scientists are worrying about the future of the surrounding environment. "The effects of the oil spill could persist for months and possibly years," said Tina Swanson, a fish biologist with the Bay Institute. Due to the many ships and oil refineries that pass through the San Francisco Bay each year, it is not the first time we have heard of an oil spill. Now more than ever, organizations that are specialized in restoring wildlife habitats in the Bay Area are looking for volunteers to assist their time in cleaning up the mess left by the toxic oil.

Damage by the oil spill, seems less obvious in the months afterwards, but according to tests conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard, there is still a great amount of fuel residue left on the bay floors near the surrounding shorelines. Though many beaches have been reopened, due to the San Francisco Bay tides, the oil continues to wash up on the beaches that have already been cleaned. Wildlife rescue workers and volunteers have found over 30 oiled birds, of which six were already dead. The toxic oil seeps through the animal's skin, so they are unable to control their body temperature and in turn are forced to move ashore where they die of starvation. "Many times the birds are so stressed out, that an encounter with a human or bigger predator freaks them out and essentially just kills them," said a wildlife solutions specialist (who would like to remain nameless) at WildCare.

Before the birds can be sent to clean up centers like the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), centers like WildCare help calm down the bird. "We mainly try to stabilize the animals by giving them fluids, called triage, before we send them out to places to get cleaned and rehabilitated ," said the WildCare wildlife solutions specialist.

Oil is an extremely hazardous substance for wildlife as well as humans. Contact with oil is supposed to be avoided, and according to the Save the Bay organization, oil blobs are never to be thrown away in regular trash. Birds or wildlife found with oil or tar on their feathers and feet are supposed to be reported immediately to wildlife hospitals or rescue centers. Until the mammals are reached to a safe hospital, some immediate steps should be taken. The bird should be placed into a ventilated box with a towel inside it. A description of the bird and its location should be told to the receptionist. The animals are never to be fed anything.

In the San Francisco Bay, oiled bird sightings have ceased, but there is a lot of restoration work that organizations such as Save the Bay and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network are working on. To return the thriving habitats for the San Francisco Bay, native plants need to be planted and non-native weeds, such as fennel and salt bush, and trash need to be removed. Places like the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve in Hayward, in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Game, have regular restoration meetings where former salt ponds are being restored to healthy wildlife habitats for endangered species such as the waterfowl and other species of shorebirds and fish.

"Hayward has many exciting projects going on. Last year a breach was done, where a levee that was restricting water was broken down, so the land could be restored to its wetland habitat," said a receptionist the Save the Bay organization. Many volunteer programs, such as Eden Landing, are a way to help in San Francisco with the oil spill disaster by helping rebuild a healthy home for displaced and oiled animals.

Earthteam is an environmental network that enables teachers, students, and other interested volunteers around the Bay Area to be aware of new restoration events and places they can volunteer. "We do have many volunteer opportunities to work with the aftermath of the San Francisco oil spill," said Chicory Bechtal, a worker with Earthteam. To work with cleaning oiled animals with the International Bird Rescue Research Center, basic training is required as with all the other volunteer programs. By lending a hand in building a healthy wildlife habitats around the Bay by restoring wildlife displaced by the oil pollution can help lives of many animals.

If you see oiled birds or wildlife, call (415) 701-2311 or (877) 823-6926. Do not feed or attempt to help clean the oiled bird yourself, please call instead.

Visit or for more information and to learn about volunteer opportunities.

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