Today beaches near the Golden Gate are closed as a noxious oil spill is washing up against the shore. A large South Korean-based Hanjin container ship struck one of the supports of the Bay Bridge and released oil into the bay from a damaged tank. According to Caltrans engineers the bridge got the better of the collision and suffered no significant damage. The cause of the crash is a mystery, since the bridge is pretty easy to spot by eye or radar, even in heavy fog. The ship even had a local pilot aboard. We are still waiting to learn the extent of the environmental damage.
The most famous oil spill on the bay occurred on January 19, 197. On that date, two oil tankers, the Arizona Standard and a sister ship, the Oregon Standard, collided in the bay. Winds and currents drove the resulting spill north toward Bolinas Lagoon in Marin County. As the Point Reyes Light recalls, “The collision ripped open six of the Oregon’s 26 fuel oil compartments, dumping 840,000 gallons of oil into the bay — more than half of which ended up on beaches around the Bay Area. The spill killed roughly 20,000 birds and some seven million marine organisms, according to Bay Area researchers.”
What was most remarkable about the event was the rallying of community support for the embattled beaches. The community of Bolinas quickly rallied. Sculptor Tom D’Onofrio shared his recollections with the Light:
Drawing on his days at a logging camp in the Adirondacks, D’Onofrio felt that stringing a boom — a row of logs — across the lagoon’s narrow mouth might provide a decent barrier, and that hay could be used to soak up oil.
“It was a crude plan, but this was instantaneous thinking,” the sculptor said.
He approached neighbor John Armstrong, a boatbuilder with many logs on his property, and persuaded him to help with the boom’s construction.
D’Onofrio then drove down to Scowley’s, the local cafe and hangout (now site of the Kaleidoscope women’s craft collective) to enlist manpower.
“I went into Scowley’s and jumped on a counter and yelled, ‘This is what’s happened: there’s oil offshore and it’s coming this way,'” D’Onofrio recalled. “‘We need every able-bodied man, woman, and big child. Can we count on you?’ And everyone there yelled, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it!'” By the time the band of volunteers reached the beach, hundreds of residents had converged at the end of Wharf Road to help.
While many birds were lost a large number were also saved, and the actions of the volunteers were inspiring. A nearby canyon was renamed Volunteer Canyon in commemoration of their efforts. It is home now to an Audubon center, and is the nesting place for egrets and blue herons. The image shows a group of birders enjoying the canyon, whose preservation is due in part to the sense of community that resulted from the mobilization of the volunteers.
UPDATE ON THIS NEW SPILL:
On their own: In Bolinas, residents struggle to keep fragile lagoon safe. “The residents were angry that such important work was left to amateurs while an international cleanup effort is under way only a few miles away.”