Conservation & Science

We’re responding to the Refugio oil spill

Two weeks after a pipeline spilled more than 20,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean near Santa Barbara, oiled wildlife continues to show up on southern California beaches. Now, the Aquarium has dispatched a team of specialists to help care for rescued seabirds, in collaboration with California’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response. Other zoo and aquarium colleagues in California have also responded.

Nearly 200 seabirds and marine mammals have been affected thus far, and about half have survived, according to state wildlife officials.

It’s not the first time the Aquarium has stepped up to care for oiled marine animals in the wake of oil spills. In 1989, we helped rescue and care for sea otters in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Prince William Sound. More than 25 years later, that spill continues to affect the health of the marine environment.

Map showing areas of Gaviota coast affected by oil spill
Map showing areas of Gaviota coast affected by oil spill

While the recent Refugio spill in the Santa Barbara Channel is – fortunately – a relatively small one, it nonetheless carries environmental costs. Oil has been observed in four marine protected areas that are vital feeding and breeding grounds for fish, marine mammals and birds. Two state beaches remain closed until further notice. Commercial fishermen are shut out of 138 square miles of prime waters.

“Incidents like this are unfortunate reminders that offshore oil and gas operations in California pose an ongoing threat to valuable ocean and coastal ecosystems that we’ve worked so hard to protect,” says Aimee David, the Aquarium’s director of ocean conservation policy. “It should be a priority to remove as many of these facilities as soon as possible, and do so in a way that is based on sound science, meets strict state and federal environmental standards, and bolsters funding for marine protection and conservation efforts.”

For the short term, the Aquarium will be working in Santa Barbara to help oiled seabirds recover from the spill. Over the long haul, we’ll be active in Sacramento in support of policies to protect California’s vibrant ocean ecosystems from oil spills and other threats.

Learn more about our Conservation & Science programs

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