Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Oil Spill Response and Point Blue Deployment

A young Thai-Guatemalan American man with short dark hair and glasses measures a dead oiled Brown Pelican wing as part of a past oil spill documentation process
Point Blue GIS Specialist Dennis Jongsomjit measuring a dead oiled Brown Pelican wing as part of past oil spill work, Point Blue photo

By Mani Oliva, C.E.O.

As you have likely heard by now, on Saturday morning an oil spill occurred off the coast of Huntington Beach in Southern California in which 127,000 gallons of oil leaked into the ocean. This spill, the largest in the area in three decades, has already impacted wildlife and poses significant risk to the birds that depend on habitat in the Talbert Marsh, which the LA Times calls “a critical link along a migratory bird route.”

Point Blue has deployed scientists to collect data from wildlife impacted by oil spills since 1984 and this time is no different. As part of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, a joint effort of over 40 member organizations, our role is to carefully collect data on each oiled animal recovered in an oil spill–data that will be used to document the impacts of oil spills on wildlife. Among many other observations, we collect data on species, age and sex of the animal, measurements of some animals (to help with identification), when and where it was recovered, and how much of the body is oiled. We also collect evidence of oiling of each animal by taking a photograph and collecting an oil sample. Our long history and strong data collection and data management skills make us a critical part of the recovery process. In 1994, we worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to write the first statewide protocols for oiled wildlife processing.

The importance of collecting and managing this data cannot be overstated. The data will be used as evidence in a Natural Resource Damage Assessment, a legal process in which the impacts of oil spills are evaluated and the responsible party is required to pay for damages. Much of these funds go to restoration efforts to help affected wildlife populations. While we are not directly involved in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, the data we help collect can help with restoration. For example, after the Cosco Busan spill in the San Francisco Bay, the settlement provided $30 million for projects to restore injured natural resources and compensate for lost recreational uses.

As I write this, Diana Humple, Avian Ecologist with Point Blue and our lead oil spill responder, is onsite in Southern California and hard at work collecting data. Teams work from sunrise to sunset ensuring data is carefully collected and logged, live animals are handed off to rehabilitation teams, and dead animals are carefully stored. So far, Diana and colleagues have observed affected birds of six species: Brown Pelican, Ruddy Duck, American Coot, Eared Grebe, Sanderling, and Western Grebe. You can find the latest information as it comes in on the OWCN website

Our ability to respond to crises like these and rapidly deploy our team depends on your generous contributions. We thank you for being a part of the Point Blue community and your continued support. If you have any questions about our involvement in this spill, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.