Oil Disaster at Refugio


Image by KTLA News 5

About a year ago my husband, daughter and I were on a quick weekend road trip to Santa Barbara. On our drive south we stopped at Refugio State Beach to admire the long beautiful stretch of pristine beach and stretch our legs a little. My husband (a native of Mexico) was in awe that undisturbed pieces of coast still exist in Southern California.

Last week I was in Washington D.C. with partner California NGOs to advocate against offshore oil exploration and drilling. A Santa Barbara resident that was in the group said, “it’s not about if a spill can happen, it will happen, it happens all the time in our beaches, little or small we get that stuff on our beaches.”

That is exactly what happened on Tuesday, May 19, when a ruptured pipeline owned by Plains All American Pipeline spilled an estimated 100,000 gallons of oil along Refugio Beach. In less than two days it damaged California’s coast all the way south to the Kashtayit and Naples Marine Protected Areas. The Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area, was established to protect and celebrate the coastal culture practiced by Chumash Indians, and Naples State Marine Conservation Area houses a unique reef system where you can find an array of marine wildlife such as fish, lobster, anemones, and healthy kelp forests. Additionally, this is a place where many ocean users such as fishermen, surfers, divers, beach goers and whale watchers work and play.


On Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County to get quick response for any resources needed at Refugio State Beach and nearby impacted shoreline.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife have been ordered to close recreational and commercial fishing along that area in the wake of the spill. Fishing grounds in the coast of Santa Barbara support some of California’s highest-value fisheries. As well, campgrounds in Refugio State Beach have been closed by California State Parks and warnings have been issued for nearby State Beaches for the busy Memorial Day weekend, making many visitors look for other last-minute vacation options.

Right now, the California’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network have been on the scene with cleanup crews and wildlife rescuers to protect threaten and endangered species such as the snowy plover and the California least tern, as well as some oil-covered pelicans that have been affected and many other marine species that have been washed ashore.

Authorities still don’t know the extent of wildlife that has been harmed. Many organizations like the Environmental Defense Center and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, among others, have been in the field documenting and reporting on the story as it develops. We will keep you posted with any development on this tragedy.

As a conservationist and a mother, I work to conserve some of the most beautiful and biologically important coastlines and marine habitats in the world, places where future generations like my daughter can enjoy, play and admire for years to come. I hope my daughter has a chance to experience Refugio State Beach, and places like it, with her children as we got to do.

We invite you to join our movement to Kill the Drill and protect our California coastline for generations to come!

What can you do?

We know that after seeing pictures of the spill and harmed marine wildlife, we feel the urge to get to the scene and volunteer. Now that authorities are overseeing the cleanup we are asking people to not get to close to the spill. If you see any wildlife affected, do not try to pick them up or rescue them. Instead call the proper agencies in charge like the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at (877) 823-6926 or go to www.owcn.org.

For more volunteer information click here.


“Unfortunately with oil development is not a question of IF, but of WHEN” – Owen Bailey, Environmental Defense Center.

Sign the petition to tell California legislators we don’t want another oil spill in our beautiful golden coast! This legislation, SB 788, calls for the Coastal Sanctuary Act to be updated to reflect the Marine Life Protection Act goals and to close oil drilling loopholes for good.

We hope for a quick and thorough cleanup and we thank everybody that is involved in restoring this beautiful place.

By Diane Castaneda, Marine Program Coordinator

Follow the conversation on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag listed below: #RefugioBeach #SantaBarbaraOilSpill

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Image by Santa Barbara Channelkeeper


Image by Santa Barbara Channelkeeper


Image by Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

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Image by Santa Barbara Channelkeeper