After a disheartening visit to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach Friday morning, I went to Aquatic Park in the afternoon to see what things were like there. As my wife, my daughter and I approached the water, the smell was powerful and unavoidable. Unlike the familiar tarry smell of an old wharf on a warm day, this was a sharper, more pungent scent, reminiscent of visiting a dying car in the ward of a Mission District garage, surrounded by mechanics with solemn faces and purple gloves.
What we saw was both better and worse than the scene at Ocean Beach that morning. While at Ocean Beach I found four oil-covered birds in the space of an hour and a few hundred yards of sand, at Aquatic Park a great blue heron, a black-crowned night heron (I think) and a gull were all hunting a rocky reef exposed by the very low tide. It was encouraging to see them apparently unperturbed and behaving normally. But just a few feet away, the seawall and rocks closer to shore were black with oil. The oil on the surface of the rocks is one thing, but the spaces between the rocks are rich with life (an abundance of fish that surprises most people, crabs and other crustaceans, mollusks, worms, sponges, algae), as is the sediment beneath them. Oil in these places is unlikely to be recovered by even the most scrupulous cleanup, and the impact probably will be ongoing for decades.