58,000 gallons of oil spilled into the San Francisco Bay on Wednesday morning, after a cargo ship hit the base of one of the towers of the Bay Bridge, causing a tear in the side of the ship and rupturing its fuel tanks.
The accident was caused by "human error", which means someone in the ship made a mistake. Investigators are still trying to find out what happened. The fog was unusually heavy that day and the tide had just turned; causing experts to believe that could be the reason for the crash. Though thousands of ships pass under the Bay Bridge each year, this is the first time an accident like this has happened in the 70-years the bridge span has been there. This is also the biggest oil spill in this area in 20 years.
Whatever the cause, the results are devastating (shocking). To begin with the oil that spilled was heavy-duty bunker fuel oil which, is the worst kind of oil. It is very hard to clean and takes years to disintegrate (break down). This means that the bay area marine life may be affected for many many years.
To make matters worse, this is prime migration season, when thousands of birds fly from Canada to the Bay Area. Scientists say about 150,000 ducks from Canada have just flown over to spend the winter in the warmer, richly preserved San Francisco Bay.
The oil has also reached the Farallon Islands where over 200,000 mures (seabirds) migrate this time every year. The Point Bonita area is home to thousands of harbor seals who may also be affected. The furry sea lions that entertain thousands of tourists at Fisherman's Wharf every day could also be in danger.
The reason furry animals and birds are both very susceptible is not just due to the oil fumes which are deadly, but also, because when the oil coats their skin, it causes them to get cold and they leave the water. Because of the high metabolism of these animals, they need to eat regularly. Once they get out of the water, they do not eat enough and hence die. Also, if the birds preen (clean and straighten) their feathers, they could get poisoned.
Scientists believe the effects of the oil spill could last for months and possibly years, and may completely change the ecosystem of this beautiful area. The only positive thing we can say about this disaster is that so many people in the Bay Area called offering to help that they had to shut down the volunteer phone line for a few hours.
Click on the video below to see how the birds are being rescued: