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San Francisco Bay Becoming an Oil Slick

June 22, 2008

By Anonymous

ECOLOGY Imagine if someone put a superhighway through Yosemite National Park. That is exactly what is happening just outside California’s Golden Gate, asserts Robert Ovetz, executive director of Seaflow: Protect Our Living Oceans, Sausalito, Calif. “Our Yosemites on the sea are being used as on-ramps to the global economy and, as long as this continues, we can expect more and worse Cosco Busan spills.”

(On Nov. 7, 2007, in a heavy fog, the 900-foot container ship Cosco Busan struck the tower supporting the western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, resulting in a 200-foot-long tear to the port side of the ship that ripped open several fuel tanks, which then spilled 58,000 gallons of oil into the water.)

The San Francisco Bay area is home to the contiguous National Marine Sanctuaries-Cordell Bank, Monterrey Bay, and Gulf of the Farallones. The Federal government has a system of 13 National Marine Sanctuaries, the ocean equivalent to the National Park System, which protects the most sensitive and biologically diverse of the country’s national waters. California has four in all, including one in the Channel Islands. There also are dozens of state Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the central and north central coast, Ovetz points out.

Running shipping lanes through these sanctuaries and near newly proposed MPAs undermines the intent of the 1972 Sanctuaries Act and the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act-to guard these biologically rich areas-insists Ovetz. These include Point Bonita, Duxbury Reef, and Point Reyes, all three of which have been polluted by the Cosco Busan spill.

Every cargo vessel and oil tanker that enters San Francisco Bay passes right through at least one of the three contiguous National Marine Sanctuaries. The approximately 3,600 vessels that enter this waterway annually are threatening the very integrity of these invaluable marine habitats and San Francisco Bay.

As devastating as oil spills are, large cargo vessels and oil tankers present other wide-ranging threats to the environment. They contribute to global warming by burning bunker fuel like that spilt by the Cosco Busan. Moreover, they emit intense, low-frequency noise at the same frequency used by baleen whales; this is the biggest source of ocean noise pollution today. In some areas, scientists have documented that underwater noise levels have doubled every 10 years for the past four decades.

Ocean noise pollution has a range of impacts on marine life. At worst, it can be deadly. Studies show that fish, including commercially important species, are impacted dramatically. Hearing loss and changes in migration and schooling, along with serious reductions in catch rates, have been documented.

The problem of large vessel traffic into San Francisco Bay is increasing rapidly, Ovetz explains. The Port of Oakland, already plaguing local communities with toxic emissions from the vessels and semi-trucks that service them, is the fourth busiest container port in the U.S. and 20th busiest in the world. According to the Federal government, the large commercial vessel fleet has risen globally from about 30,000 vessels in 1950 to almost 100,000 today-and the number of large vessels in the global fleet is expected to nearly double in the next 20-30 years.

A recent fog-induced oil spill and heavy boat traffic are endangering a number of marine sanctuaries in the San Francisco Bay area.

Copyright Society for Advancement of Education Apr 2008

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