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vessel traffic

The M/V Cosco Busan leaves the San Francisco Bay on Dec. 20, 2007, after hitting the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7. Photo by Jonathan R. Cilley, U.S. Coast Guard.


One of the biggest threats to California’s coast is a large oil spill, which could seriously impact coastal ecosystems, as well as wipe out the entire population of California sea otters.

The sea otter range encompasses the entire length of a major shipping route that experiences heavy oil tanker and container ship traffic along the Pacific Coast (See Real Time Traffic Map below). As trade with Asia increases, California’s coastline and ports are going to contend with a significant increase in vessel traffic. It’s mandatory that protections be put in place to ensure that coastal resources and marine species are protected from the devastating effects of an oil spill.

Accidents have occurred in the past and remain a serious threat to the California coast and its invaluable resources. On November 7, 2007, the M/V COSCO Busan, a container ship, struck Delta Tower of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge in thick fog.This resulted in a release of 53,569 US gallons of heavy fuel oil causing significant environmental and economic impacts. The oil spill is estimated to have closed more than 50 public beaches, oiled about 200 miles of coastline within the Bay and down the coast to Pacifica, killed 6,849 birds and 14 to 29% of the herring spawn in the winter of 2007-08. Total cleanup costs were estimated to be more than $70 million.

The Otter Project is working to minimize the risk of an oil spill occurring by advocating for the management of vessel traffic in established vessel lanes. So far the lanes, which have been recognized by the International Maritime Organization, are voluntary, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they are not being followed.



Real Time Live Interactive Vessel Traffic Map