Adding more straw to the Bay’s back.

Image source: Jim M. Goldstein, JMG-GalleriesTalk about kicking someone when they’re down down.

When the Cosco Busan collided with the Bay Bridge earlier this month, spilling 58,000 gallons of heavy-duty bunker fuel into the Bay, it was a heartbreaking reminder of the Bay’s vulnerability.

But what makes the spill even more upsetting is that it is not the only injury the Bay is enduring: it’s a spike against the already roaring background noise, another burden on an already severely stressed ecosystem. In the past 150 years, about 85% of the Bay’s tidal marshes have been drained or lost to development. About a third—and in dry years double that amount—of the natural freshwater flows that feed the estuary are diverted instead to farms and cities. In effect, the loss of wetlands and massive diversions of freshwater inflows have compromised the Bay’s natural immune system, making it less resilient in the face of disaster. To make matters worse, every year we are “spilling” about 3 million gallons of oil into the Bay and its watershed via polluted runoff and emissions. (Similarly, in the ocean only about 5% of the oil comes from big tanker spills; much more comes from runoff, routine maintenance, and emissions.)

As both a major shipping port and critical wildlife habitat, the Bay is at risk for an even more catastrophic spill. Obviously we need stronger regulations and stiffer penalties to prevent future spills. But we also need to continue working everyday to restore the Bay’s wetland habitat and freshwater inflows, and to reduce pollution, so that our Bay will be better able to protect and heal itself.

It was heartening to see the public outpouring of concern for the Bay in the wake of the spill. Now it only remains for us all to harness that energy to continue working for a healthy Bay, even as the media coverage of the spill fades away.

Ann Dickinson is Communications Manager for The Bay Institute (, a nonprofit research, education, and advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay and its watershed, “from the Sierra to the sea.”

latitude 37.8002, longitude 122.379

Oil Spill Adds Insult to Injury 28 November,2007Ann Dickinson


Ann Dickinson

Before moving to California almost five years ago, Ann served as Sally Brown Fellow in Environmental Literature at the University of Virginia, where she taught undergraduate seminars on literature and the environment and coordinated an ongoing reading series featuring nationally prominent nature writers. Prior to that, she spent a year as a research assistant at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's field station on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, studying how young leaves defend themselves against herbivores.

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