Surfrider Activists Defy Authorities to Fight San Francisco Oil Spill

Words: Jim Moriarty, CEO, Surfrider Foundation

Last week tragedy struck California when 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel spilled into the San Francisco Bay. Over the last 10 days, the spill has spread outside the confines of the bay and along the coast, closing at least 16 beaches and fouling environmentally sensitive areas such as the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Over 1000 birds have been found saturated with fuel and hundreds have died. The spill continues to threaten dozens of species of shorebirds, along with fish, harbor seals, porpoises and California sea lions. Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for the area and suspended the opening of crab fishing season and all fishing in the areas affected by the spill.

Spill

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this catastrophe is how slowly it took for officials to respond. San Francisco residents were shocked that oil was all over the beach and no one was there cleaning it up.

That was until local Surfrider Foundation activists stepped in.

According to a Department of Fish and Game representative, “We’re supposed to discourage people who haven’t been trained not to clean up the oil, but the surfers have been doing a better job of cleaning it up than anyone else.”

The moment the Surfrider Foundation’s Bay Area chapters heard about the spill, they did what our chapters do best- they mobilized and swiftly responded.

Here’s a report from Wes Womack, the chair of our San Francisco chapter:

The San Francisco chapter first got word of the oil spill on Wednesday night at our chapter meeting. Our activists hit the phones, email and the streets to immediately respond.

Our chapter was in close communication with fellow activists who took it upon themselves to find and rescue wildlife and begin the cleanup process. What started as a couple of people filling the void of the official efforts resulted in an overnight grassroots movement.

We focused initially on Ocean Beach for the weekend. On Saturday there were roughly 100 volunteers and on Sunday there were 1000 people on the beach collecting oil splotches with organic hair mats. By Monday morning, we’d secured training for volunteers and several specialized cleanup crews were focused on Ocean Beach. We made a difference!

Cleaning up the oil spill

Surfrider Foundation activists also took it upon themselves to place warning signs along Ocean Beach, after authorities failed to inform the public that the beach was potentially hazardous.

You can read more about the spill and the efforts of our Bay Area chapters at www.sfsurfrider.org and www.surfridersmc.org.

When catastrophes like this strike, the Surfrider Foundation is always on the front lines. And with your support, we’ll be more than ready for the next one.

Your donation today not only assists our Bay Area chapters as they help clean up the damage caused by this appalling spill, you’ll be helping stop these types of tragedies from happening in the first place. In fact, we are currently pushing federal legislation to strengthen and modernize the Oil Spill Prevention Act of 1990 in order to prevent future ecological disasters like this.

The spill will remain a deadly threat for months, if not years to come and sadly we never know when or where the next coastal disaster will occur. That’s why your support is essential. Please make a donation to protect the beaches today and preserve them for tomorrow.

I will keep you posted on our efforts to restore the Bay Area’s beaches as well as our work to ensure a tragedy like this won’t happen on your beach.

For our oceans, waves and beaches.

To donate to this cause, go to the Surfrider Foundation website.

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