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article imageTanker Hits Bridge Causing Massive Oil Spill in San Francisco Bay

By Lenny Stoute     Nov 9, 2007 in Environment
Environmental officials scramble to mop up 58,000 gallons of heavy crude. Wildlife workers begin treating hundreds of oiled and dead birds washing up on area's famed and now closed beaches.
There hasn't been one this bad since 1996 but Wednesday's oil spill in San Francisco Bay looks to make up for lost environmental damage.
A cargo ship, the Cosco Busan, travelling from Oakland to South Korea, hit a barrier on a tower of the bridge. Wednesday and leaked 58,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay.
The U.S. Coast Guard was quick on the scene, surrounding the spill with floating booms, removing at least 8,000 gallons with skimmer ships and absorbent pads, s spokesman U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Anderson told the San Jose Mercury.
Unfortunately, the size of the spill was grossly underestimated in the earliest stages, lending to a scaled-down reaction. At first, Coast Guard officials said the spill had only resulted in 140 gallons of bunker fuel in the water. This was later upgraded to a whopping 58,000 gallons.
By 1 p.m. oil hit the rocks at Alcatraz. By 2 p.m., the sheen was on the beach at Crissy Field. By 3 p.m., it was on the rocks at Fort Point.
By Friday, eight of the popular tourist beaches in the Bay area and Marin County were closed.
On Thursday, hundreds of oiled birds began coming home to roost with at least two dozen dead reported.
The sheen appeared to be moving west, under the Golden Gate and into the Pacific Ocean. Coast Guard reports also placed it as far north as Dillon Beach and as far south as Hunters Point.
For years biologists have been concerned that a significant oil spill inside San Francisco Bay could cause major environmental damage. The bay has only one narrow opening at the Golden Gate, and the wrong combination of currents at this volatile time of year could push oil south into the sensitive San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara County marshes, home to fish, birds and harbor seals.
While the dozens of dead and injured seabirds found coated in black goo are the most visible victims of the spill, scientist say it could be disastrous for the area's fish stocks.
Herring, the bay's only commercially fished species, spawn at this time of year, and the spill could affect them. It also poses a threat to Steelhead and Chinook salmon that travel through the bay to spawning grounds in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers during the fall, Grader said.
Scientists also are worried about the spill's effect on the Longfin Smelt, the population of which has reached record low levels this year and is on the short list to be considered endangered.
Experts fear this is exactly the kind of event that can push a species into extinction.
Wildlife officials are concerned that the Bay Area's sea lions and harbor seals could also be affected, though there were no confirmed reports Thursday of injured marine mammals.
After the collision, the fuel evaporated into noxious fumes that wafted toward San Francisco's Financial District. The San Francisco public health department issued a statement noting that while oil vapors had sickened people onshore, causing headaches and nausea, the fumes posed no long-term health effects.
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