It has been exactly one week since the horrible news of a gas and oil spill into the San Francisco Bay. The media tells us that 58 thousand gallons poured out of a fully loaded container ship bound for Korea when it clipped the middle tower of the western Bay Bridge span. We've all heard the finger pointing of blame in the news. We've all seen the impact on wildlife, especially seabirds. We all know that oil and water don't mix. It only took a day before the oil slick contaminated the shoreline around the middle of the bay, and then seeped out to the beaches on the Pacific coast.
Those who know me in San Francisco know how much I like to spend my afternoons down at the beach when itís a sunny "Baker Day". We get about 80 per year. Baker Beach is located only 20 short city blocks away from my home / office. I ride my bike down there 95% of the time. Being down on Baker can be a vibrant social scene; a gymnasium; a place to relax, be creative or read. Most days it resembles a fun vacation day, like at Club Med. It is also a wildlife refuge. Naturally, this catastrophe became an issue dear to my heart. Being so near the impact zone, I had to go down there myself and see the damage.
On Friday, I arrived solo and stepped under the yellow "CAUTION!" tape onto an empty beach. It was bizarre to walk completely alone to the north Baker hangout spot. As soon as I reached the surf I saw small globules of oil collected at the high tide mark. The oil balls were thick, chunky and shiny. Some seabirds were floating near the wave break or running around on the beach looking for food. I saw a few oil blemishes on their feathers. The scene - all alone in a toxic zone on a hot day - was very apocalyptical. It only took 10 minutes until I was spotted laying low at our duney site. Fellow beach pal Heinz met me at the steps to the bike rack just as I was being escorted out by a national park security guard. We sat above the beach closure sign on a beach dune overlook. From our perch we could see the full length of the beach both ways. We watched as the guard swooped out in his ATV to intercept other trespassers. With a heavy heart we spotted three bottlenose dolphins languishing about 20 meters offshore, as a slick of oil sludge drifted by on calm seas. They seemed to be resting, or perhaps recovering. The toxic shock must be a tremendous strain on all the wildlife of the Bay Area.
Today was another return day, except there was fog lingering on the coast, the kind you donít see until you are just about to drop the hill down to Baker. I decided to ride on because I told Meg and Heinz I'd meet them at our beach spot if we could get in, or at our Friday beach dune overlook. When I got there I saw the beach was still closed so I went to the overlook. Instead of a security guard patrolling the beach, two lines of a dozen white-suited toxic clean up crews slowly combed the beach. Meg and Heinz arrived with Tom, another fellow Baker aficionado. As we watched the clean up crew scour the beach a sea gull landed near us, hoping for a handout. The gull had oil splotches all over its body, with sizeable amounts on its head and webbed feet. We fed the hungry victim. The sight of the workers and the grimy bird set off an impassioned discussion between the four of us.
Heinz thought if a dolphin washed ashore dead, the authorities would try to get it out unseen without unwanted attention. Tom lamented on the breakdown of communications and the late containment response. He also pointed out that our spill was small compared to yesterdayís spill in the Black Sea, or the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, 200 times bigger. Meg cried at the thought of all the suffering animals. For whatever it was worth, I apologized to the tainted gull below my breath.
If there can be any positive outcome to the 2007 oil spill, maybe the people of the Bay Area will become horrified enough to demand change. Perhaps as outraged and conscious people we can visualize phasing out oil and gas ASAP. In my opinion, the oil companies need to go. Battling them is David vs. Goliath. They are dangerous, unnecessary, and make profit-minded decisions without public oversight. They have been buying up alternative energy patents for decades. They quashed Tesla's free energy technology a century ago. They are also the largest corporations on the planet, some even rivaling the domestic economies of small countries (Exxon/Mobil passed Uruguay early in 2007). Then there is the damage done to the atmosphere by allowing these companies to direct our energy policies by prioritizing carbon-emitting fuels. I place my blame on the oil companies, more than the reckless sea captain or the late cleanup responders. Shame on you oil executives (and your lawyers) for polluting our world, for lobbying politicians to promote your agenda, all in the name of profit. You've not only taken away my favorite place, but much worse, you poisoned the bay.