|<< Upwelling Front Page | Next Article in Upwelling (2 of 4) >>|
Lessons from the Spill
By Richard Charter
We can all agree that we never want another oil spill to happen here on the California coast.
But we also know that another spill will eventually happen again. So we owe it to the magnificent marine ecosystems all around us - and to ourselves - to make sure that we do a better job of responding next time.
We can point fingers about what obviously went wrong with the initial response to this spill, or we can look toward the future and diligently improve our spill prevention measures. We must make sure that there is no dithering in the critical first 60 minutes of any spill response, that all agencies with a need to know are notified immediately instead of hours later, and that information provided to responders and the public is accurate and verifiable.
We can make sure we know the specific location of cargo, chemical and tanker vessels, and where all fixed and moving obstacles are located, at all times. We clearly need to provide all container ships with tug escorts, and we need to seriously consider a single centralized state-of-the art loading terminal for the mammoth oil tankers entering and leaving our bay, so that hazardous shipping is not heading in all directions at once, as it is today.
We can also ensure an immediate full-scale response to future spills, enhanced by pre-trained volunteers. This spill was bad enough, but next time, the mess could well be a lot bigger. We could easily need skimmers and containment booms deployed on the water from Monterey to Mendocino, and we are simply not ready.
Dedicated workers who have persevered through the heart-breaking task of hand-cleaning oiled seabirds deserve our sincere thanks, but next time they may need to accommodate larger numbers of patients. Next time, damaged seabirds could easily number into the many thousands, even into the tens of thousands.
We have fragile estuaries and bays containing nurseries for our marine life spread out all along our coast, each facing the open ocean and with no present capability in place for deploying protective oil spill containment booms. We know that any oil spilled into those pristine estuarine environments can continue to poison marine life for decades, even for a century or more. An oil spill of significant scale that reached the Carquinez Strait could also cripple the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, paralyzing agriculture and vital water supplies for millions of Californians.
We can also expand the small area of permanent protection from offshore drilling rigs provided within our existing national marine sanctuaries by extending their boundaries farther northward to shelter more of our coast from the potential for exponentially bigger spills from drilling operations. A bipartisan bill ensuring this needs to be passed by Congress and signed into law this year.
Meanwhile, we should take better care of our coastal environment so that we maintain a vital, healthy and resilient ocean ecosystem that will be better able to withstand future man-made stresses of all kinds. We can create a network of marine reserves along our coast to the north, as has already been done on the central coast, so that similar ocean habitats are able to rebound and ensure a vital genetic reservoir from which to restore our most sensitive marine populations after a spill. The existing California Marine Life Protection Act provides us with the existing law and planning mechanism necessary to bring about healthier fish stocks and vibrant ecosystems that will better survive future accidents.
Or we can pretend this spill did not happen, ignore what we should have learned, and go back to sleep. The awakening next time, however, would likely be a lot worse, and the damage even more severe.
RICHARD CHARTER is a member of the Defenders of Wildlife Government Relations Program. He first wrote this article for the Mercury News.
|© 2005-2006 Farallones Marine
All Rights Reserved.