Scientists test oil spill containment strategies to protect sensitive sites

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and oil spill response organization MSRC recently tested response strategies to protect environmentally sensitive sites in the event of an oil spill within Humboldt Bay.

"The exercise was performed at the Elk River estuary and involved the deployment of boom used to contain spills and help protect the environment," said Jeff Dayton, an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).

CDFW’s Sensitive Site Strategy Evaluation Program (SSSEP) evaluates strategies selected from more than 600 sites statewide that are particularly vulnerable to an oil spill. These sites are identified in Area Contingency Plans (ACPs) and are rich in sensitive biological resources including fish, birds and marine mammals. The Elk River estuary provides important marsh habitat on Humboldt Bay for wildlife breeding, nesting and feeding and rearing areas for many species of fish and shellfish.

The strategy tested focuses on preventing oil from reaching the habitat-rich estuary that is vital to Humboldt Bay’s marine ecosystem.

Factors such as tidal patterns, currents and weather conditions affect how well equipment like boom works. Testing a strategy helps experts from OSPR determine whether it is likely to be successful in the event of a spill or needs to be altered.

ACPs cover the entire coastline and marine waters of California and include the state’s busiest port areas: San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles/Long Beach and San Diego. More than 50 state, federal and local governments, as well as non-government organizations, industry and the general public contribute to ACP development.