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Torch/Platform Irene Oil Spill, California



The Torch/Platform Irene Oil Spill Trustee Council continues to implement a number of restoration projects addressing injuries to seabirds arising from a 1997 oil spill from a pipeline into the Santa Barbara Channel. These restoration projects focus on Brown Pelicans, Brandt's Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots, Black Oystercatchers, and Western Gulls, the species most heavily impacted by the oil spill. In addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the Trustees include two California state agencies, NOAA, and the U.S. Air Force.

Platform Irene

In 2010, the Trustees directed $1.2 million of settlement funds to the Bureau of Land Management to establish the Seabird Colony Enhancement Project over a 300-mile long project area. The goal of the project is to restore populations of nesting and roosting seabirds by reducing multiple kinds of human disturbances to colonies and to monitor progress toward recovery of seabird populations since the spill. The design of this effort is modeled after the successful work of the Command Oil Spill Trustee Council  to establish a similar Seabird Protection Network further north on the California coast near San  Francisco from Monterey County to Sonoma County.

The Trustees conducted aerial overflights of the Central California coast from Point Sur (Monterey County) south to Point Conception (Santa Barbara County) in late May to document the existing population levels of seabird colonies. An education specialist from the California Department of State Parks and Recreation is implementing outreach and media programs to involve key groups within the general public, such as fishermen, recreation groups and pilots. Through outreach efforts such as public service announcements, information kiosks, and displays at highly visited beaches and bluffs, Trustees can inform the public about seabirds, their biology, habitat requirements for nesting and roosting, and the ways that people can contribute to assisting recovery of seabird colonies in the project area through their own behavior and concern.

Bird biologists from a non-governmental organization, PRBO Conservation Science, have mapped permanent locations from which to observe reproductive success at nesting colonies at least weekly during the nesting season in 2011 and beyond. BLM and PRBO are working jointly with local communities in the impact area to establish long-term citizen-science cadres of local residents to monitor important areas of seabird concentrations throughout the year. In addition, the Trustees are working with Federal, State, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies to educate the public on the legal basis for protecting seabirds from human disturbances and how to avoid unintended disturbances to seabirds.

The trustees are especially concerned about the seabird colonies closest to population centers because of the potential detrimental impact of human activity on seabird populations. Specifically, Trustees are focusing on colonies near the Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, and Morro Rock near San Luis Obispo. These activities are providing essential information about eventual needs for access control and habitat improvements for seabird colonies in the project area. Observations will extend to remote colonies in southern Monterey County in future seasons.