Ten years after the Cosco Busan oil spill: Preparedness and response improved; $30M in environmental restoration ongoing

Nov 1, 2017

Contact: Eric Laughlin, CDFW Communications, (916) 214-3279

SAN FRANCISCO – This month marks a decade since the container ship Cosco Busan crashed into a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge support tower and released more than 53,000 gallons of fuel oil into San Francisco Bay, affecting people, estuarine and marine wildlife, habitats, and recreation across several counties and spurring an extensive spill response effort and ongoing natural resource restoration work.

Lessons learned from the Cosco Busan spill have led to improvements in regional spill response including better coordination among local, state, and federal responders; the region is better prepared today to handle an oil spill of that magnitude. Restoration of damaged natural resources and lost recreation from the incident has been substantial and includes dozens of ongoing or completed projects throughout the Bay and outer coast that were selected with public input. A multiagency “Trustee Council” that includes California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California State Lands Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service has been actively identifying and implementing projects with spill settlement funds.

“There are now much stronger alliances between all stakeholders in spill response, ranging from the various levels of government, to industry, to environmental organizations, to concerned members of the public,” said Thomas Cullen, administrator of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR). “Great work has also been done to enhance habitat and recreation using restoration funds recovered from the incident.”

Spill Response

Many of the measures implemented since the incident bolster spill response and preparedness capabilities at the local government level; one active grant provides fully equipped spill response equipment trailers to local responders to protect resources in the early stages of a spill, and another provides funds to local agencies to join state and federal partners in ongoing oil spill contingency planning.

Local government has also been incorporated into the Unified Command structure managing response to oil spills in California, which has traditionally only included the U.S. Coast Guard, CDFW-OSPR, and the responsible party. Through a “Local Government On-Scene Coordinator,” cities and counties are better represented and able to provide local expertise during an incident.

CDFW-OSPR expanded its volunteer program to include opportunities beyond caring for oiled wildlife and developed an online volunteer registration tool to be activated during oil spills. To bolster public information and warning during an oil or hazardous substance spill, the agency introduced an incident website (CalSpillWatch.com), and social media presence (@CalSpillWatch) to provide live updates during incidents. Photos, briefs, updates, and news are posted regularly.

“Some of Baykeeper’s main concerns during the 2007 spill response were that local agency coordination and public communication were lagging,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper. “We’re pleased that there is now a system in place to involve local agencies so that they can effectively protect Bay shorelines from oil, and that there are ways for the public to get live updates on the progress of spill cleanup efforts.”

At the state legislative level, Assembly Bill 1112 added spill prevention staff to ports in San Francisco and Los Angeles/Long Beach to ensure safer operations during ship bunkering (taking on fuel) and lightering (off-loading oil from larger to smaller vessels) activities in the ports.

Federal and industry-level changes made since the Cosco Busan incident continue to enhance joint spill response and planning in the Bay Area. The Coast Guard constantly reviews its response and prevention practices, and since the initial changes that were implemented in the year following the Cosco Busan incident, has added measures to further prevent such an incident. These include adding a critical maneuvering area at the west span of the San-Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge and leveraging improved technologies available with the Automatic Identification System, a satellite-based vessel tracking system that supplements marine radar for collision avoidance.

“The federal, state, and local response community in the San Francisco Bay area is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen,” said Capt. Tony Ceraolo, commander of Coast Guard Sector San Francisco. “The maritime community in this region is likewise highly organized and holds safety as a top priority.  I especially applaud the San Francisco Bay and Delta Area Committee for its work on navigation safety, spill prevention and spill response planning.”

Natural Resource Restoration

(Download illustrated ‘Cosco Busan 10 years later’ flyer here:


A settlement with Regal Stone Limited and Fleet Management Ltd., the owners and operators of the Cosco Busan, designated over $30 million to a variety of projects to restore injured natural resources and compensate for recreational opportunities lost due to the oil spill.

Restoration projects underway include endangered species restoration, habitat creation for birds, and restoration of beach and tidal habitats that support fish, native oysters and eelgrass.

Examples include:

-Marbled murrelets, critically-endangered seabirds that nest in old-growth redwood trees, often face egg predation by ravens and jays. A multi-year restoration project in Grizzly Creek Redwoods and Humboldt Redwoods State Parks includes infrastructure improvements in campgrounds and picnic areas as well as visitor education and outreach to reduce human food waste that supports murrelet nest predators. Refer to the Trustee Council newsletter for details on another Marbled Murrelet restoration project in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

-At Aramburu Island, the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary is restoring habitat for birds, harbor seals, native vegetation and native oysters. Many shorebirds have returned to the restored island, with black-necked stilts, killdeer and black oystercatchers nesting successfully. An existing harbor seal development has been improved and harbor seals have been observed returning to the development.

-At Muir Beach, the National Park Service re-routed the beach access trail that bisected and trampled the dunes. This project decreases damage to the dunes, increases the dune restoration footprint, and improves accessibility. In areas of degraded dune habitat, invasive weeds were reduced, sand fencing was installed to reestablish dune formation and native dune species were planted. Visitors also can enjoy improved access to a new picnic area, a new pedestrian bridge and boardwalk to the beach, new trails, improved restrooms and a new parking lot, funded in part by Cosco Busan. These improvements, combined with wetland and dune habitat restoration, enhance both the visitor’s experience and natural resources at this beautiful beach.  

The Council is reviewing several proposals to enhance surf scoter habitat and to expand ongoing restoration of eelgrass in San Francisco Bay. Eelgrass beds provide important habitat in the Bay and are key nurseries for shellfish, herring, and other species of fish.

The Cosco Busan Trustee Council also has allocated over $13 million to recreation projects around the Bay and outer coast, with 41 projects being either complete or ongoing. For more projects and additional information on those mentioned, visit the Cosco Busan restoration webpage and Restoration Plan at: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/OSPR/NRDA/cosco-busan


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