Is a rocky road ahead for Ocean Beach?

January 26, 2010

Opponents of plans to dump boulders along a badly eroded portion of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach could gain a week’s reprieve to propose alternative methods of protecting a threatened roadway and a major wastewater pipeline from erosion due to high surf and winter storms.

Although the city’s Department of Public works suggests installing a wall of rocks as an emergency measure to protect the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard and the pipeline that carries the treated sewage of western San Francisco out to sea, Supervisor Rossi Mirkarimi – also a member of the powerful California Coastal Commission – said “armoring and revetment are not a good idea.”

Opponents of the rock revetment plan are concerned that it would adversely affect both the environment and the suitability of the area for surfing, but at great expense and without providing a long-term solution to erosion and rising sea levels.

Mirkarimi also indicated he was willing to consider putting off a Board of Supervisors vote on an emergency declaration that would clear the way for swift work on installing the rocks, which some beach users fear will only create erosion on other parts of Ocean Beach.

“I’m OK with it being held off a week,” although he understands DPW’s sense of urgency in seeking to protect the pipeline, Mirkarimi said.

Mirkarimi’s statement went over well at a packed house of more than 100 surfers and neighbors Monday night at the Park Chalet restaurant.

What isn’t clear at this point is how many of Mirkarimi’s colleagues also would support delaying the vote to confirm the emergency declaration. In any case, the wastewater pipeline is such an important piece of city infrastructure that concerns about losing it will weigh heavily with the members of the Board of Supervisors.

Winter storms and high surf have chewed away at Ocean Beach south of Sloat Boulevard, destroying as much as 75 feet of the coastal bluff adjacent to the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant. The San Francisco Department of Public Works has declared an emergency because of the erosion, and on Tuesday the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on confirming the declaration.

Ocean Beach spans four San Francisco local electoral districts: Supervisor Eric Mar’s District 1, Supervisor Carmen Chu’s District 4 and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s District 7. In addition, District 5’s Mirkarimi is a regional representative on the Coastal Commission, which has wide-ranging jurisdiction over development on the California coast.

Beach Chalet owner Lara Truppelli offered to collect opinions on the fate of the southern part of Ocean Beach and pass them on to the appropriate governmental authorities. She is collecting input at oceanbeach@beachchalet.com.

To directly contact Mirkarimi and the San Francisco supervisors whose districts include parts of Ocean Beach:

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi: (415) 554-7630, Ross.Mirkarimi@sfgov.org

Supervisor Eric Mar: (415) 554-7410, Eric.L.Mar@sfgov.org

Supervisor Carmen Chu: (415) 554-7460, Carmen.Chu@sfgov.org

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd: (415) 554-6516, Sean.Elsbernd@sfgov.org

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Up close with Ocean Beach erosion

January 24, 2010

I went out to Ocean Beach this morning to see the current condition of the eroded bluff south of Sloat Boulevard. The parking lot at Sloat and the Great Highway was closed, as was the roadside parking area to the south.

Bicyclist examines Ocean Beach erosion

I have fished Ocean Beach for about 15 years, and I’m familiar with the ways winter storms and calmer summer waves can significantly rearrange the beach, sometimes moving vast amounts of sand in very little time. But I don’t remember ever seeing the sand this depleted. In fact, structures such as a metal-and-rock groin extending into the surf from the shore just off the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant are visible now, whereas they normally are completely buried in the sand.

One of the reasons the sand has disappeared from this area is clearly visible at low tide: There is a complex and large system of otherwise normal beach structures in htis area, with troughs moving large amounts of water along the shore, and rips pumping that water and suspended sand offshore.

Closed parking area near Oceanside water plant

Lara Truppelli of the Beach Chalet restaurant has called a meeting Monday evening to discuss the erosion. I’m curious to hear what the city and other agencies with jurisdiction over Ocean Beach, the Great Highway and the water treatment plant propose to do about the recent erosion and the long-term condition of that part of the beach.

Surfer climbing down eroded bluff to Ocean Beach

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Park Chalet to host meeting on Ocean Beach erosion

January 22, 2010

Following the closure of a portion of San Francisco’s Great Highway due to ocean erosion, users of Ocean Beach and neighborhood residents will have an opportunity to talk about the city’s plans to shore up the beach and protect the street and a nearby water-treatment system.

Ocean Beach erosion

A portion of San Francisco's Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard was closed to traffic in January after rainstorms and the Pacific Ocean ate away at an already eroded portion of Ocean Beach. Photo by Crescent Calimpong via Surfrider Foundation, San Francisco chapter.

A meeting is planned for 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25 at Park Chalet, behind the Beach Chalet at 1000 Great Highway. The meeting will cover the erosion, potential methods to address it, and an official emergency declaration that could speed and simplify the process for implementng erosion-control measures.

According to the San Francisco chapter of the Surfrider Foundation:

The DPW Project Manager, Frank Filice will be there to discuss the emergency declaration, the short-term strategy, and a process for a long-term solution.

Everyone who has an interest in the preservation and the future of Ocean Beach is encouraged to attend. The emergency declaration will go before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for ratification the following day, Tuesday, January 26th. For questions or more information, please email the meeting organizer and Chair of the San Francisco Ocean Beach Vision Council: Lara Truppelli at Lara@beachchalet.com.

The Surfrider Foundation has established a blog dedicated to tracking news and information about erosion on Ocean Beach.

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Disclosure: My work with the Wild Equity Institute

January 19, 2010

I’ve been helping a San Francisco nonprofit organization establish itself on Twitter, and in the spirit of full disclosure I want to explain my relationship with the group.

The nonprofit I’m working with is called the Wild Equity Institute. You can find WildEquity’s Twitter account at twitter.com/WildEquity. Wild Equity’s mission is to build “a healthy and sustainable global community for people and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth.” Wild Equity Institute logo

My work with Wild Equity has been done completely pro bono. That is, I received no compensation for it and I have no economic relationship with WEI. I think Wild Equity deserves the opportunity to be on Twitter and part of the reason I chose to help the group is that I previously knew its executive director, but the fact that I helped it get started on Twitter shouldn’t be construed as a blanket endorsement of everything the Wild Equity Institute does.

If you would like to know more about my work with the Wild Equity Institute, or if you are connected with a nonprofit organization that would like to know more about how to get into Twitter without a big investment of funds and staff time, please call me at 415-685-3428.

Follow the Wild Equity Institute on Twitter.

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My visit to San Francisco State University’s corpse flower

June 30, 2009

I took the kids to see San Francisco State University’s corpse flower — also know as a titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum — on Monday afternoon. It wasn’t fully open, but the fellow who cares for it said he thought it might be open by Wednesday morning.

If you go, you should keep in mind that the greenhouse is small, and crowded with plants. No more than six or eight people can get a good look at the flower (actually an inflorescence) at any one time. The aisles of the greenhouse don’t look wheelchair-accessible, but the corpse flower itself is near a door and it should be easy to get a wheelchair in the door and up close to the flower.

While we were there I took a look around SFSU’s greenhouse complex, which is pretty nifty. They have one room dedicated to California native plants, and even though it wasn’t open it was cool to see they had several varieties of manzanita to demonstrate adaptations to various water, soil and fire regimes.

Corpse flower, also known as titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum, at San Francisco State Universitys greenhouse, Monday, June 29, 2009.

Corpse flower, also known as titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum, at San Francisco State University's greenhouse, Monday, June 29, 2009.

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Tips for the eco-friendly fisherman

June 8, 2009

June 8 is World Oceans Day, which means stories about local beach cleanups and how to choose the most environmentally sustainable fish at the restaurant or market. We’re also hearing a great deal about the perils excessive harvesting by the commercial fishing industry.

But what of the individual saltwater angler – the recreational fisherman (or woman) who fishes for relaxation, for a challenge, for a few tasty meals, or just for an excuse to get out of the house? How can these fishermen pursue their hobby in a way that will help ensure good catches in the future and sustainable fisheries for their grandchildren to enjoy?

Unfortunately, as a fairly regular – if not particularly skillful – fisherman, I know it’s not easy to know when I’m doing the right thing. I undertook a little online research for advice, recommendations and products. What I found was that there’s not enough good information out there. However, I’ve come up with some recommendations based not only on research, but also my own firsthand experience fishing San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean in Northern California.

I don’t want to point fingers or preach to anyone, but I do want to foster a forward-thinking mindset among my fellow fishermen by providing recommendations that will apply to most people in most places. If you have thoughts on what you read here, please leave a comment.

Please feel free to republish this post in part or in whole, as long as you credit me as the source.

The basics of eco-friendly fishing

The basic foundation of eco-friendly fishing is legal and ethical fishing. Follow this part of the recommendations, and you’ll be well on your way to being an eco-friendly fisherman.

  • Read up on all rules and regulations for the place you intend to fish and the kind of fish you intend to catch. Most of the time, these rules are aimed at ensuring the long-term health of fish populations, so be sure to follow the regulations.
  • Never kill a fish if you don’t intend to eat it.
  • Never deliberately fish for a species when you know the season is closed. Unintended catches are a fact of fishing (and one of the things that keeps it surprising and fun), but going after out-of-season species can put harmful stress on fish that need their energy for migration, spawning or protecting their young. It can also get you in trouble.
  • Respect marine protected areas and other areas closed to fishing. We may not always like it when a favored honey hole is put off-limits by new regulations. But one of the benefits of many closures is the creation of a “seed” population of fish that can produce young that will be available to catch in other locations.
  • Don’t hammer the same spots over and over again. In some situations, such as the sandy Pacific beaches of the United States, fish move quite a lot. A spot that was unproductive in the morning may be full of fish in the afternoon. But in other areas, such as rocky seamounts or rocky shoreline, slow-growing fish may spend their whole lives in a very small area. If you change up the spots you visit, you limit the possibility that you’re depleting the fish in a given location.
  • Pick up your mess. At many of the places I fish in the San Francisco Bay area and the nearby Pacific coast, litter is a significant problem. Cigarette packages, plastic bags, plastic bottles, bits of old line, rubber gloves, broken tackle – I’ve picked up loads of this stuff at some of my favorite spots, and it’s just depressing to find a meticulously cleaned spot littered again later. Don’t be one of Those Guys. Real fishermen clean up after themselves.

Catch-and-release tips

One of the most obvious ways to protect fish stocks is to release fish. But what’s the best way to ensure these fish survive?

  • Minimize touching fish with gloves, a cloth or even your hands if you intend to release them. Too much handling can remove the protective coat of slime from fish, leaving them vulnerable to disease. If you need to hold on to a fish to remove a hook, devices that grip the fish’s jaw are a better alternative.
  • Don’t take fish out of the water if you can avoid it. Fish are meant to be in the water, and any time spent on a dry shore, or the deck of a boat or pier, is stressful. Whenever possible, remove hooks while the fish is still in the water.
  • Use barbless hooks. I know, that little barb provides some reassurance that once you’ve hooked a fish it won’t come unbuttoned and get away. But in my own experience, I mash down the barbs of my hooks much of the time, and I find that the number of times a barb is the make-or-break factor in landing a fish is extremely small. And when I use circle hooks, I’ve never had a fish throw the hook even when there’s no barb. On the other hand, a barb may make it impossible to get a hook out without further injuring a fish.
  • Use circle hooks when fishing with bait. The point of a circle hook points toward the shank, an arrangement that would seem counterproductive. But in practice, circle hooks are easy to use and make it harder for fish to throw the hook. Best of all, circle hooks hook fish in the corner of the mouth nearly all the time, which means means less injury for the fish and makes it easy to reach and remove the hook.
  • Use knotless, rubber-coated landing nets. Rubber and rubber-coated nets are gentler on the fish’s slime coat. Some fish, such as halibut, are particularly susceptible to tail rot because their tails are easily split by the cord of traditional landing nets. Rubber, knotless landing nets reduce the possibility that the fish you release today will later die of disease.

Low-impact fishing tackle and other products

  • Use biodegradable line. Just this weekend, as I was picking a bird’s nest out of my casting reel, I thought about all the line I’ve unintentionally left behind when fishing. That line is slow to break down, and remains a hazard to birds and fish – and an annoying snag for other anglers. Makers of biodegradable lines claim that whereas regular monofilament can take 600 years to break down, their products disappear in about five years. As far as I can tell, these new lines still are available only in limited strengths and quantities, but they seem to provide an attractive alternative to leaving long-lasting line in the water after snags or break-offs.
  • Use non-lead sinkers. Standard gear for California salmon fishermen used to include big “cannonball” sinkers for trolling, which would be released to fall to the bottom when a fish was hooked. On the sea floor, these balls of lead might not do much harm. But closer to shore, fish and birds can ingest smaller sinkers. Many tackle manufacturers offer alternative sinkers that don’t use any lead at all. They’re a little more expensive, but I like them because they’re harder than lead and I think I can feel the bottom better with these sinkers. There’s at least one tackle manufacturer that takes the alternative sinker to an extreme, drilling holes in rocks. On California’s rocky shores, fishermen have long used small pouches filled with pebbles or sand as cheap sinkers in this tackle-grabbing environment. I’ve sometimes tied up a rock in a bit of cotton kitchen twine for a sinker in these areas, and it works quite well.
  • Use plain bronze hooks. Corrosion-resistant steel hooks have the advantage of lasting for season after season – or at least, being tolerant of not being rinsed off after being used in salt water. But a bronze hook that’s left in a fish that breaks off quickly corrodes away, leaving the fish free to feed naturally. I’ve looked for bronze circle hooks, but as far as I can tell these aren’t made.

Other products and practices for eco-friendly fishing

  • Use locally sourced bait when possible, and avoid non-native bait species. Live baits can carry parasites or diseases, or come packaged with materials such as seaweed that can harbor other organisms and unintentionally introduce them to your fishing environment. Locally sourced baits don’t have to be transported by air, truck or boat, and local fish already are used to feeding on them.
  • What about bait vs. lures? Some sources I found when researching eco-friendly fishing suggested that bait is better than lures because baits are biodegradable, whereas a lost lure means a chunk of metal or plastic left in the environment. That’s a good point, but I find that unless I’m using circle hooks, fish caught on bait too often swallow a hook deeply, meaning that it’s harder to land and release those fish without permanent harm. I’m not yet sure what I think about this question. However, one way of getting the best of both worlds is with biodegradable soft baits. They can’t replace Kastmasters, diamond bars and other metal lures, but the variety and quality of these products is impressive. And of course, one can always go old-school and carve plugs out of broom handles.

For more on journalism, politics, cities and the environment, follow Tom Prete on Twitter.

June 8 is World Oceans Day, which means stories about local beach cleanups and how to choose the most environmentally sustainable fish at the restaurant or market. We’re also hearing a great deal about the perils excessive harvesting by the commercial fishing industry.

But what of the individual saltwater angler – the recreational fisherman (or woman) who fishes for relaxation, for a challenge, for a few tasty meals, or just for an excuse to get out of the house? How can these fishermen pursue their hobby in a way that will help ensure good catches in the future and sustainable fisheries for their grandchildren to enjoy?

Unfortunately, as a fairly regular – if not particularly skillful – fisherman, I know it’s not easy to know when I’m doing the right thing. I undertook a little online research for advice, recommendations and products. What I found was that there’s not enough good information out there. However, I’ve come up with some recommendations based not only on research, but also my own firsthand experience fishing San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean in Northern California.

I don’t want to point fingers or preach to anyone, but I do want to foster a forward-thinking mindset among my fellow fishermen by providing recommendations that will apply to most people in most places. If you have thoughts on what you read here, please leave a comment.

Please feel free to republish this post in part or in whole, as long as you credit me as the source.

The basics

The basic foundation of eco-friendly fishing is legal and ethical fishing. Follow this part of the recommendations, and you’ll be well on your way to being an eco-friendly fisherman.

BEGIN LIST

Read up on all rules and regulations for the place you intend to fish and the kind of fish you intend to catch. Most of the time, these rules are aimed at ensuring the long-term health of fish populations, so be sure to follow the regulations.

Never kill a fish if you don’t intend to eat it.

Never deliberately fish for a species when you know the season is closed. Unintended catches are a fact of fishing (and one of the things that keeps it surprising and fun), but going after out-of-season species can put harmful stress on fish that need their energy for migration, spawning or protecting their young. It can also get you in trouble.

Respect marine protected areas and other areas closed to fishing. We may not always like it when a favored honey hole is put off-limits by new regulations. But one of the benefits of many closures is the creation of a “seed” population of fish that can produce young that will be available to catch in other locations.

Don’t hammer the same spots over and over again. In some situations, such as the sandy Pacific beaches of the United States, fish move quite a lot. A spot that was unproductive in the morning may be full of fish in the afternoon. But in other areas, such as rocky seamounts or rocky shoreline, slow-growing fish may spend their whole lives in a very small area. If you change up the spots you visit, you limit the possibility that you’re depleting the fish in a given location.

Pick up your mess. At many of the places I fish in the San Francisco Bay area and the nearby Pacific coast, litter is a significant problem. Cigarette packages, plastic bags, plastic bottles, bits of old line, rubber gloves, broken tackle – I’ve picked up loads of this stuff at some of my favorite spots, and it’s just depressing to find a meticulously cleaned spot littered again later. Don’t be one of Those Guys. Real fishermen clean up after themselves.

END LIST

Catch-and-release tips

One of the most obvious ways to protect fish stocks is to

BEGIN LIST

Minimize touching fish with gloves, cloths or even your hands if you intend to release them. Too much handling can remove the protective coat of slime from fish, leaving them vulnerable to disease. If you need to hold on to a fish to remove a hook, devices that grip the fish’s jaw are a better alternative.

Don’t take fish out of the water if you can avoid it. Fish are meant to be in the water, and any time spent on a dry shore, or the deck of a boat or pier, is stressful. Whenever possible, remove hooks while the fish is still in the water.

Use barbless hooks. I know, that little barb provides some reassurance that once you’ve hooked a fish it won’t come unbuttoned and get away. But in my own experience, I mash down the barbs of my hooks much of the time, and I find that the number of times a barb is the make-or-break factor in landing a fish is extremely small. And when I use circle hooks, I’ve never had a fish throw the hook even when there’s no barb. On the other hand, a barb may make it impossible to get a hook out without further injuring a fish.

Use circle hooks when fishing with bait. The point of a circle hook points toward the shank, an arrangement that would seem counterproductive. But in practice, circle hooks are easy to use and make it harder for fish to throw the hook. Best of all, circle hooks hook fish in the corner of the mouth nearly all the time, which means that it’s easy to reach and remove the hook.

Use knotless, rubber-coated landing nets. Rubber and rubber-coated nets are gentler on the fish’s slime coat. Some fish, such as halibut, are particularly susceptible to tail rot because their tails are easily split by the cord of traditional landing nets. Rubber, knotless landing nets reduce the possibility that the fish you release today will later die of disease.

END LIST

Low-impact tackle and other products

Use biodegradable line. Just this weekend, as I was picking a bird’s nest out of my casting reel, I thought about all the line I’ve unintentionally left behind when fishing. That line is slow to break down, and remains a hazard to birds and fish – and an annoying snag for other anglers. Makers of biodegradable lines claim that whereas regular monofilament can take 600 years to break down, their products disappear in about five years. As far as I can tell, these new lines still are available only in limited strengths and quantities, but they seem to provide an attractive alternative to leaving long-lasting line in the water after snags or break-offs.

Use non-lead sinkers. Standard gear for California salmon fishermen used to include big “cannonball” sinkers for trolling, which would be released to fall to the bottom when a fish was hooked. On the sea floor, these balls of lead might not do much harm. But closer to shore, fish and birds can ingest smaller sinkers. Many tackle manufacturers offer alternative sinkers that don’t use any lead at all. They’re a little more expensive, but I like them because they’re harder than lead and I think I can feel the bottom better with these sinkers. There’s at least one tackle manufacturer that takes the alternative sinker to an extreme, drilling holes in rocks. On California’s rocky shores, fishermen have long used small pouches filled with pebbles or sand as cheap sinkers in this tackle-grabbing environment. I’ve sometimes tied up a rock in a bit of cotton kitchen twine for a sinker in these areas, and it works quite well.

Use plain bronze hooks. Corrosion-resistant steel hooks have the advantage of lasting for season after season – or at least, being tolerant of not being rinsed off after being used in salt water. But a bronze hook that’s left in a fish that breaks off quickly corrodes away, leaving the fish free to feed naturally. I’ve looked for bronze circle hooks, but as far as I can tell these aren’t made.

other products and practices for eco-friendly fishing

BEGIN LIST

Use locally sourced bait when possible, and avoid non-native bait species. Live baits can carry parasites or diseases, or come packaged with materials such as seaweed that can harbor other organisms and unintentionally introduce them to your fishing environment. Locally sourced baits don’t have to be transported by air, truck or boat, and local fish already are used to feeding on them.

What about bait vs. lures? Some sources I found when researching eco-friendly fishing suggested that bait is better than lures because baits are biodegradable, whereas a lost lure means a chunk of metal or plastic left in the environment. That’s a good point, but I find that unless I’m using circle hooks, fish caught on bait too often swallow a hook deeply, meaning that it’s harder to land and release those fish without permanent harm. I’m not yet sure what I think about this question. However, one way of getting the best of both worlds is with biodegradable soft baits. They can’t replace Kastmasters, diamond bars and other metal lures, but the variety and quality of these products is impressive. And of course, one can always go old-school and carve plugs out of broom handles.

END LIST

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Looking back on the Cosco Busan

November 7, 2008

One year ago, the container ship Cosco Busan hit a bumper on one of the towers of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, spilling more than 50,000 gallons of toxic bunker fuel in San Francisco Bay.

(More following video below)

I went down to Ocean Beach to see the damage for myself, and things were pretty bad. I expected the beach to be completely black with oil, and thought it wasn’t that bad, it was bad enough, with blobs of oil from the size of marbles up to the size of dinner plates all over the sand, and more stuck to the wrack that always rests on the beach.

Oil blob, Ocean Beach

Oil blob, Ocean Beach

The worst part was the birds. I saw a dead bird covered with oil right away, and farther down the beach I found more that were still alive but heavily oiled and clearly in distress. I think the saddest sight was two little eared grebes hunkered down in the sand near the end of Sloat Boulevard, desperately trying to preen the oil out of their feathers. They likely ingested quite a bit of the oil stuck to them, in which case they probably didn’t survive.

Dead murre on Ocean Beach

Dead murre on Ocean Beach

One year later, some measures have been taken to prevent another spill and to better clean up afterward, but much more remains undone. A proposed law requiring double-hulled fuel tanks on cargo ships is stalled in Congress, some proposals for faster required response times have been rejected, and most glaringly there still is little training available for people who want to be part of volunteer cleanup crews in preparation for the next spill.

Oiled grebe on Ocean Beach

Oiled grebe on Ocean Beach

As for the impact of the spill on the environment of San Francisco Bay and the nearby parts of the Pacific Ocean coast, that’s still under study. One important piece of information will come in just a matter of weeks, when schools of herring make their annual journey into the bay to lay their eggs on eelgrass and various seaweeds. The herring fishery is the last commercial fishery in the bay, with herring eggs (preferably still attached to the seaweed) fetching a good price in Japan.

The pilot guiding the Cosco Busan on the day of the crash is set to go to trial in the spring.

For more videos of the Cosco Busan aftermath at Ocean Beach and Aquatic Park, including video of oiled birds and bird rescues, visit my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/tpretesf.

For more photos of the oil spill, including some that the Weather Channel picked up for an episode of its Forecast Earth show, click here to visit my Flickr photostream. I’ve separated some oil spill photos into two folders to make them easier to find.

The San Francisco Chronicle did a good job of covering the Cosco Busan spill when it happened, and they’ve done a good job following up a year later. I don’t see any reason to reinvent the wheel here, so here are some links to my posts from last year, plus some Chronicle stories:

PretePress: Black death on the beach

PretePress: Oil spill updtate November 9

Pretepress: Track the path of San Francisco oil spill tanker

PretePress: S.F.’s Aquatic Park reopens after oil spill

Chronicle op-ed reviewing reactions to the spill and what needs to be done

Chronicle article on the role of the pilot and what went wrong

Chronicle on the ongoing environmental effects of the Cosco Busan oil spill

Chronicle on the lack of training for public oil spill response

Chronicle article providing a considerably rosier view of the bay’s recovery, from the USCG

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