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PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: Aramburu Island From Dump Site to Bird Sanctuary
California-Nevada Offices , June 27, 2014
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, including law enforcement, assisted with response and natural resource assessment. As part of the assessment, the Service helped develop a restoration plan to restore damaged resources like habitat.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, including law enforcement, assisted with response and natural resource assessment. As part of the assessment, the Service helped develop a restoration plan to restore damaged resources like habitat. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Restoration work is still ongoing on Aramburu Island as Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary staff remove non-native plants.
Restoration work is still ongoing on Aramburu Island as Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary staff remove non-native plants. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Following the construction of a gravel back berm and new shoreline rock and wood micro-groins were installed to keep the beach in place and stop the erosin of Aramburu Island.
Following the construction of a gravel back berm and new shoreline rock and wood micro-groins were installed to keep the beach in place and stop the erosin of Aramburu Island. - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Cindy Sandoval

San Francisco Bay is home to several manmade islands often formed as a by-product of development. As houses and businesses sprung up around Marin County in the 1950s and 1960s, the dirt excavated from the building sites was simply dumped into the bay. After the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill, one of these dirt islands was identified as an important sanctuary for birds. Today, Aramburu Island is a resting place to more than 50 bird species and is an active restoration site for the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary with funding provided in part, by the oil spill restoration settlement.

On November  7, 2007, the ship MV Cosco Busan struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The collision with a support tower of the bridge punctured the vessel and caused 53,569 gallons of fuel oil to spill into the bay. As deadly petroleum seeped out around the bay, government agencies and volunteer organizations tried to contain its spread and aid wildlife. Volunteers in boats searched for wildlife that were sick and collected the bodies of wildlife that had dead after being exposed to the oil. The tiny, 17 acre, Aramburu Island started to get the attention of biologists when birds were discovered seeking refuge on its shores.

“During the 2007 oil spill Audubon scientists and volunteers noticed that the majority of birds in Richardson Bay were using Aramburu Island to escape the toxic waters,” said Rachel Spadafore, restoration ecologist for Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary. “At that time the island was covered in invasive vegetation, there was no beach; really there was no suitable habitat so it really said a lot that the birds were forced onto this island.”

After large oil spills state and federal trustee agencies can seek financial compensation for the damage caused to the environment. It was estimated that the oil spill killed 6,849 birds, impacted 14 to 29 percent of the herring spawning that winter, and oiled 3,367 acres of shoreline habitat. With such large scale ecosystem damage, the Cosco Busan Trustee Council , which includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California State Lands Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others, were award over $30 million in restoration funds.

One site selected for restoration was Aramburu Island and the Cosco Busan Trustee Council awarded $1 million to the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary to create a habitat suitable for birds on the island. “With a large percent of project costs provided by the Trustee Council, the Audubon Society was able to reach out to other partners and leverage additional funds for the Aramburu Island project,” said Toby McBride with the Service’s Environmental Contaminants Division.“The Aramburu Island restoration has had many funders,” explained Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary director Jordan Wellwood. “It has definitely been a partnership with many organizations both local and federal.”

Even with the funds secured the Center had their work cut out for them, as the island was never designed to be a bird sanctuary. One of the first issues they had to solve was the erosion of Aramburu Island. “The waves come in from the south east and they used to dig into the edge of the island causing a serious erosion problem, the island was getting narrower, losing about 2 to 6 meters of land per year,” Spadafore said. To solve this problem, fine sand donated from the San Francisco marina dredging project was placed on the islands east shore along with large piles of dead trees and rocks that act like pins to hold the beach in place.

The beach was not the only habitat added to the island. Before restoration began the island contained mostly low-mid elevation tidal marsh habitat as well as a small oak grove. “Now the island is a mix of several different habitats that are critical to migratory and resident birds,” said Spadafore. Today the island contains grass-sedge meadows, salt grass meadows, saline flats, a high tidal marsh and vernal marsh and a vernal pool habitat.

Another issue was the invasive weeds covering the island. To deal with these, a large trench was dug in the center of the island and the weeds were buried and then sealed off with bay mud to keep them from reappearing. The island is revegetated by growing seedlings on shore and then transplanting the greenery to the island. “We have a bunch of salt tolerant natives growing, we produce about 50 percent of the plants that go out to the restoration site and the other 50 percent are brought in by a local nursery,” added Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary staff member Courtney Calkins.

The restoration of Aramburu Island is still ongoing but the with the expertise of the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary staff, and the oil spill restoration funds, Aramburu is a completely different place since birds first started using it to escape oil. The small dirt island that lay forgotten in the bay for decades now serves as a place for birds to feed, raise young and rest as they travel along the Pacific flyway.

 Cindy Sandoval is a public affairs specialist at the Pacific Southwest Regional Office in Sacramento, California.


Contact Info: Cynthia Sandoval, 916-978-6159, cynthia_d_sandoval@fws.gov



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