Between January 28 and February 4, 1986, the transportation barge, APEX HOUSTON, discharged 26,000 gallons of crude oil while in transit from San Francisco Bay to the Long Beach Harbor. The oil spill damaged seabirds and other aquatic life from San Francisco to the Big Sur coast. Approximately 10,577 seabirds were killed, including 7,488 common murres (Uria aalge). A trustee council, made up of representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), was established to review, select, and oversee implementation of restoration actions for natural resources injured by the spill.
A common murre restoration project (CMRP) was developed with the goal to recolonize common murres at historic breeding colonies in the areas where they were extirpated or severely depleted by the oil spill. Social attractants (decoys and recorded vocalizations of common murres) are used to attract common murres to nest at historic near shore colonies in the vicinity of San Francisco and Monterey. Common murres are monitored at these sites and at reference sites in the vicinity of Point Reyes and the Farallon Islands in order to evaluate and refine the recolonization project. Monitored parameters include colony size, reproductive success, behavior, and phenology of common murres. In addition, anthropogenic factors (e.g., boat disturbance, aircraft overflights, oiling) and natural factors (e.g., predation, diet, climatic fluctuations) that may affect the success of recolonization efforts are also monitored.
After ten years of restoration efforts and monitoring, the project has exceeded the goal of 100 breeding pairs of murres at Devil's Slide Rock for six consecutive years and breeding by murres on the adjacent Devil's slide mainland has been documented. Monitoring data indicate that colony productivity is affected by both anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic disturbances on an annual basis.