Recovering Santa Barbara’s Oil-Slicked Beaches - Oceana USA
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May 27, 2015

Recovering Santa Barbara’s Oil-Slicked Beaches

My drive to Santa Barbara was quite nostalgic, having studied aquatic biology there years ago. I had recently wanted to visit my old stomping grounds, but coming to see the impact of a recent oil spill and assist with the clean-up efforts was not the circumstance I envisioned. My first view of the ocean from the freeway was framed with towering offshore oil rigs which I remember well, a familiar scene off the southern coastline. Continuing further down the coast was soon followed by a foreign picture, one I had only previously seen in photographs. At least eight vessels surrounded a very large support platform and boom to contain and prevent oil from spreading was floating on the ocean surface. This was all deployed in a massive and coordinated effort to respond to an oil spill from an underground pipeline by Highway 101 that sent an estimated 21,000 gallons of crude oil into the beautiful waters off Santa Barbara’s Refugio Beach. I didn’t need to roll down the car windows to smell the strong odor of oil.

Beach access was closed — the entrances guarded — with orange construction cones extensively lining the shoulder of the freeway bearing ‘no parking’ signs, and a large electronic board flashed a warning that Refugio Beach is closed.

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Tomorrow I will attend a four-hour hazard communication training so I will be eligible to participate as an oil spill clean-up worker. Contact with and around crude oil is nothing to take lightly; it is essential to be trained and certified to assist with toxic clean-up efforts appropriately for the safety of those involved and to prevent re-contaminating environmentally sensitive areas. But today I continued my drive into Goleta knowing it was not one of the closed beaches. I wanted to pay this beach a visit — a place I used to frequent. I was surprised to be met by an unwelcome odor of salt and tar in the air and my heart sank a little to see a notice posted to the pier advising to avoid contact with visible oil in the sand and water. Goleta Beach? Although not as stunning as Refugio, Goleta Beach — located about 12 miles away from the eastern-most beach closure — is a special place to me and it too had been affected. Of course oil travels in the ocean, driven by wind and currents, but with the attention on the immediate area of the spill I had not thought about the peripheral effects to this place that was so memorable for me. This surely is not how I left this beach it when I moved. 

I am anxious to get closer to the hub of the clean-up scene and assist however possible to help restore Santa Barbara’s pristine coastal areas to the way they were before oil left its tainted mark.

Check back in tomorrow to hear about my training for cleaning up an oil spill.