|Ref2: Coast Guard and local San Francisco responders clean up bay oil spill
| 11.09.2007 | 07:25:31 | Views: 1988 |
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Seabirds' would-be rescuers can only watch in Marin Headlands
Peter Fimrite,Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writers
Friday, November 9, 2007
Surfer Meghan McNertney watched from shore as the oil-soaked sea duck flapped wildly in the waves that pounded Rodeo Beach on the Marin Headlands.
The exhausted bird, known as a surf scoter, struggled onto the sand and flopped down, only to be swept underwater by the onrushing surf. The same disturbing scene played out at various beaches around the bay on Thursday.
McNertney, a 23-year-old Larkspur resident, had been planning a day of surfing, but instead was witness to the tragic consequences of the worst Bay Area oil spill in more than a decade.
She did more than watch, though. She dashed onto the beach, past National Park Service rangers and a barrier they had set up, slopped through the oil, and cradled the bird in her arms.
"You could see the oil in the water," McNertney said later. "This little duck bird was just stranded in the sand. The tide would come in and hit him, and he'd try to scramble. It was terrible. I felt I had to bring him in."
McNertney's friend, Maaike Snoep, 31, heated some water on a Coleman stove she had brought in the back of a van, and the two began trying to clean oil off the bird.
"It was all over his face, mouth and eyes," McNertney said. "We tried to get it off his beak and his eyes first, but it was just covered with oil. It was disgusting."
The seabirds, many of them recent arrivals after their annual winter migration, became the innocent victims of the aftermath of Wednesday's accident, when a container ship struck the Bay Bridge. The damaged ship spilled thousands of gallons of bunker fuel, which drifted across the San Francisco Bay to the Marin County shoreline and finally out the Golden Gate, soiling beaches along the coast.
Bird and animal lovers rushed to the beaches to help with the cleanup Thursday, only to find that there was little they could do without proper equipment.
At Ocean Beach in San Francisco, two members of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network used fishing nets to catch distressed birds. By Thursday afternoon, dozens of birds had been picked up by members of the network, an organization that operates out of UC Davis.
"They were well oiled," said Greg Massey, a veterinarian with the network.
The birds were sent to a rehabilitation center near Fairfield for cleaning, a process that will take from seven to 10 days.
At Rodeo Beach, McNertney and Snoep underwent a cleaning themselves, as firefighters scrubbed them from head to toe.
"She felt so concerned about the wildlife that she decided to enter the oil and get it all over her," said Robert Del Secco, the National Park Service ranger who scolded McNertney for endangering her health. But McNertney said she couldn't ignore a creature that was struggling for its life when nobody else was doing anything to help.
"The bird might not live," she said, "but I just had to help."
McNertney's bird was one of 18 oil-soaked scoters and other birds plucked alive off Rodeo Beach Thursday. At least seven others were found dead. It was one of the worst-hit areas. The coastline along the Marin Headlands was caked with great gobs of goo, forcing closures of Horseshoe Cove at Fort Baker, Tennessee Valley Cove and Rodeo Beach. The rocks at Kirby Cove were slick black with oil, and a purplish sheen could be seen in the water.
"Nine of our beach areas are closed," said Chris Powell, spokeswoman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. "The worst of our beaches appear to be on the Marin side of the bay."
Rodeo Beach is as popular among sea birds as it is among surfers such as McNertney, who comes to the beach almost daily to catch waves.
"There are a lot of birds here. This is a feeding area," said Jay Holcomb, the executive director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, who was collecting the rescued birds. The birds were taken to the center's headquarters in Cordelia to be cleaned and rehabilitated.
"This is where the surf scoter, the western grebe and other birds feed and spend their winters," Holcomb said. "A lot of these birds just arrived. We think there is going to be a significant impact."
Experts urged citizens not to touch birds or get near the oil. Even the fumes can cause dizziness in high concentrations. Still, citizens flocked to the shoreline to watch the disaster and offer their assistance.
"It's just heartbreaking," said Sally McFadden, a 49-year-old Larkspur bird watcher and amateur naturalist, who rushed to the coast to help only to be caught behind a barrier.
"It's disturbing," she said, her voice breaking as she struggled to hold back tears. "These are all beaches that I love and spend a lot of time on."
McNertney said she didn't even know about the spill until she arrived with her surfboard, smelled the oil and saw the bird struggling in the goop. She literally immersed herself in the disaster.
"I'm superdepressed," she said later as she stood in the beach parking lot, her skin smeared with black oil as she watched more birds struggle out of the water. "This just sucks. The birds are dying, and no one can surf either."
ildlife at risk
-- Diving ducks such as surf scoters, greater scaups, lesser scaups, buffleheads and ruddy ducks
-- Western, eared and horned grebes
-- Common and red-throated loons
-- Western, California, glaucous and Bonaparte gulls
-- Double-crested, pelagic and Brandt's cormorants
-- Common murres
-- California brown pelican
-- Harbor seals
-- California sea lions
-- Dahl's porpoises
-- Harbor porpoises
-- Northern fur seals
-- Humpbacked whales
-- Leopard shark
-- Smoothhound shark
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