$16.9 Million to Help Restore Seabird Species in California Injured by Mysterious Oil Spills

Projects will Address Lingering Impacts from Ship that Sank 57 Years Ago


Brown Pelican. Photo: © Alan Wilson

Brown Pelican. Photo: © Alan Wilson


(Washington, D.C. , April 12, 2010) State of California and federal trustees were awarded $16.9 million for seven projects to address harm to birds from an oil leak that has killed more than 50,000 California seabirds since 1990.

The projects will help bird species impacted by oil that leaked from the S.S. Jacob Luckenbach. The freighter sank in 1953 about 17 miles southwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, but was not identified as the source of the oil until 2002 after decades of polluting waters, especially during winter storms, causing massive injury to wildlife along northern California beaches from Bodega Bay to Monterey Bay. Among the affected species were endangered Snowy Plovers and Marbled Murrelets, as well as Brown Pelicans, waterfowl, loons, grebes, cormorants, gulls, shorebirds, and otters.

In 2002, the U.S. Coast Guard oversaw a $19 million effort to remove oil from the wreck and to seal it to prevent further oil releases. In 2006, a claim for funding from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund resulted in the award to fund conservation projects. The Fund pays for oil spill cleanup and restoration of natural resources when there is no responsible party to claim from directly (in this case the owners of the Luckenbach went out of business long ago). The fund is sustained by fees from the oil industry and managed by the Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC).

To provide the greatest benefit to the affected bird species, each of the seven awarded projects will occur at the breeding grounds of affected species. Four of these are in northern California, with others for long-distance migratory seabirds in New Zealand, Mexico, and British Columbia.

Overall, 14 restoration projects were identified, totaling more than $20 million, to address the injuries from the spills. The NPFC previously approved $2.8 million for five projects to restore seabirds and sea otters. Two other projects to benefit Marbled Murrelets are still under review. The previous allocation focused on restoring Common Murres, grebes, and other seabirds in northern California, sea otters in Monterey Bay, and nesting seabirds in southwestern Alaska.

“Better late than never,” said George Wallace, Vice President for Oceans and Islands at American Bird Conservancy. “It is gratifying that the mechanisms put in place to mitigate for oil spills such as these work, and that even in the absence of a responsible party, seabird populations will finally benefit.”

This award was made within days after a Chinese coal barge was seriously damaged after running aground at full speed off the coast of Queensland, Australia. A fuel tank with 150 tons of heavy oil has been breached, but so far, the spill has been limited to only a few tons. It is unclear why the ship was in a restricted part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Australian Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett says it is too early to say whether there will be any lasting effect on the Reef, the world’s largest coral habitat.

Copies of the Final Restoration Plan, including injury assessment and restoration project details, are available at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/ospr/spill/nrda/nrda_luckenbach.html or

by contacting Steve Hampton at (916) 323-4724    shampton@ospr.dfg.ca.gov .