Oil spill in Santa Barbara affects university-owned natural reserve

Refugio Response Joint Information Center/Courtesy

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As of Saturday, 149 birds and 72 mammals were reported dead after a pipeline along the Santa Barbara coast burst May 19 and polluted miles of beaches and reserves with crude oil, including a natural reserve owned by the University of California, according to the most recent status report from the oil-spill responders.

An estimated 21,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean through a storm drain and washed ashore at Coal Oil Point Reserve four days after the pipeline burst, according to a press release. The reserve, administered by UC Santa Barbara, is one of 39 reserves in the UC Natural Reserve System and is used for environmental research and teaching.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared the oil spill a state of emergency May 20 and issued an executive order Friday that allows certain state agencies to “take all necessary steps” to issue necessary permits and waivers to expedite the cleanup and restoration process.

At Coal Oil Point, western snowy plovers — federally threatened birds that nest adjacent to the Pacific Ocean — were harmed in the middle of plover breeding season.

“We need to remove that oil because the plovers are getting tar on their wings and hair,” said Cristina Sandoval, director of the Coal Oil Point Reserve, in a video interview with the UC Santa Barbara Current. “Almost all of them have little black boots because their feet are black from oil.”

The ruptured 24-inch underground pipeline brought immediate attention to response organizations, which established a joint information center to provide information and updates on the oil spill and the cleanup process.

“It’s not a good thing that happened, unfortunately. … In California and in many places the infrastructure has been ignored,” said Paul Henshaw, a visiting professor in the earth and planetary science department at UC Berkeley.

According to the Saturday update from the responders, 12 sections of shoreline from Santa Barbara Harbor to Rincon Point have no more than 10 percent oil stain on the coastal cliffs, boulders, gravel and other general survey areas.

Contact Sujin Shin at [email protected].