S.F. Oil Spill Prompts Altruism & Activism in Kids

coastal-steward.gifMy fuming daughter shoved aside her breakfast bowl to eagerly scan the “how you can help” websites as the oil-soaked wildlife and heartbreaking headlines saturated the morning media routine, coating us with sadness.

“Idiots! How can you hit a freakin’ tower in the middle of the bay,” she ranted, as a child totally disgusted with the repeat antics of adults in charge of our delicate eco-system, feeling helpless and angry at the devastation of the 58,000 gallon oil spill (video here) right smack in the migratory “Flyway” of the Bay area’s bird season.

She slammed the newspaper down, “Why would the Coast Guard delay? Why would they hide this and lie? It says here they told the media 140 gallons when they KNEW it was a 58,000 gallon spill. The logs prove it. Why would they wait, who are they protecting? Not the animals, that’s for sure!” (more video here).

If there’s ANY silver lining in these types of disasters, it involves the “sea of goodwill” and surge of humanity ready and able to volunteer hands-on and take action. But with kids? Even THAT can add further frustration.

“Mom! This recording says you have to be over 18 to help the oiled wildlife. Are they saying because I’m 12, I don’t count? I want to DO something! You KNOW I’m trained” sigh. We live right on the water in the S.F. Bay area, a wildlife refuge for egrets, cormorants, gulls, pelicans, scotes, coots, ducks and more, so this is more than a wee bit personal…

As her outrage grew with ‘whys,’ on media and eco-action delays, my lame answers veered to, “maybe they were trying to get the gear and experts in place’ and it sounded dumb even to me, so I gave in to mumbling, “I don’t know, honey, I have absolutely no clue what they were doing.” (She’s probably thinking, ‘great, another clueless adult, just ducky.’)

Truth is, as a trained wildlife rehab/SPCA volunteer, I’m the ‘point person’ for the neighborhood when wayward waterfowl have flown into power lines, been ravaged by raccoons, or are found soiled, injured, abandoned or troubled, so she somehow expects me to ‘know these things.’

Guess it’s no surprise my daughter is equally zealous and protective of ‘all things eco,’ from animals to the environment…But egad…

oilspill-blobs.jpgShe’s ballistic about the way this has been handled, and it would do absolutely no good to point out to her that this kind of angry emotion is probably why the ‘no kids under 18’ rule is in effect.

They sure don’t need teary-eyed kids or hotheads stomping around in the blobs of polluted sludge.

My mind raced with other options…

She’s a marine-bio wannabe without the academic fortitude, always mucking around in coastal mud, so I decided to go a different action route.

She’s more apt to be one of the tweens you’d find in cool aerial photos like this one, where eco-kids create a shape as human whales to support the beach clean-ups…She likes big en masse CCC Programs like the Ocean Day Kids Beach Clean-Up because it makes her feel there are hundreds and thousands of kids, and a world of hope, all empowered by DOING, not being...

It’s important to not feel defeated, especially when disasters like this occur.

I tried to soothe her to no avail, realizing action is the only tonic to ruffled feathers that are this damaged. (yep, my fledgling is a feisty one, quel surprise, eh?)

“Tell you what, first thing we’ll do is scout the bay trail to see how far the spill has traveled and whether it’s seeped to the peninsula. We can help Baykeeper and OWCN by being their eyes…Get your bike and binoculars.”

“We’ll ride the 13-mile bay trail loop with our cellphones and call in to the oil slick number give them locations for soiled birds and slicks we see to help them monitor flow and impact.”

“Gimme a break, mom, those numbers will be jammed,” she huffed.

“Then we’ll report locally to PHS, since we know people there, if we can’t get through to the main oil slick number…They’re in touch with Ca. Dept of Fish & Game.


oil-bird.jpgBut she’d still prefer to be helping at the disaster site in S.F. directly with the wildlife.

That requires a mandatory two hour training session in Fairfield at the OWCN, and UCDavis phones are already jammed and overwhelmed. Besides, no kids allowed, as she said. (their site is updated regularly w/incoming wildlife status re: birds DOA, numbers in for cleaning, etc.)

Living on the water, we have a hands-on opportunity to be guardians of the coast in our own way, and web media is a vital resource for finding other ways kids can help out and put their energy without being exposed to the toxic sludge.

Ironically, this weekend, the GreenFestival for sustainability is taking place in S.F., with social media experts like Annie Bonds from Care2Connect, which I wrote about here, Paul Hawken of Blessed Unrest (profile on WiserEarth here) and a speaker slate of heavy hitter environmental activists.

Next weekend is the EASE initiative conference too, (they have an EASE Gaiaspace for youth) and all offer great exposure for kids to learn how to be Coastal Stewards and feel less helpless when nightmares like this happen.

I’ll try to do a round-up of what we find further, but as of this morning, our wildlife division of PHS told me they’ve received over 20 oiled birds from Half Moon Bay, Pacifica, and coastal calls.

I’ve already brought in one dead duck for evaluation, (sadly, it’s one of our trio of regulars that hang on our dock) but it turns out it was NOT hypothermia/oil death, so that’s good news in a warped sort of way.

My point is this…

We can use sad and bad events to deconstruct everything from response time to action steps, engaging kids as stewards of the planet, developing hands-on habits early and often, and learning about media literacy to boot.

Whether it’s an oil spill, an earthquake, a tsunami or a terrorist attack, horrid events can bring out the best in humanity, and media coverage can be used to take positive action rather than play the blame game, leverage tragedy for political gain, or steep in sensationalism, finger-wagging and gloom & doom head-shaking.

At Shaping Youth, we use media coverage like this as sheer info-fuel to engage kids as change agents.

earth-day-2007-200-200.jpgWith children we ALL have a responsibility to be stewards of hope, promise and compassion…

Without it, we have a lost generation, and lost opportunity to use the power of media for positive change…

Send me your tidbits of how GOOD can come from BAD events…

What are YOUR ideas for handling disasters with kids?

What do you personally do as a family when tragedy strikes and news media hurts?

How can we best use global media events to get kids to think outside themselves and emerge with a larger worldview of inter-connectedness?

Do you think we have a responsibility to expose kids to reality while protecting them from the stress and fear that comes from news media?

How do YOU balance the media message?

Think on it…And stay tuned for more…I have some birds to rescue and I’m out of gloves.

Online resources

Oiled Wildlife Care Network

International Bird Rescue Research Center

Ca. Dept. of Fish & Game: Fact Sheet on the S.F. Bay Spill

Marine Mammal Center

Incident News Updates: National Ocean Service advisories via Office of Response & Restoration, (NOAA/OR&R role) (yes, a gazillion acronyms in govt.) and latest specifics on the S.F. oil spill/media handling here.

Natural Resources Defense Council

How to help!

Report oiled wildlife at (877) 823-6926 (877-UCD-OWCN) (But do not call this number to volunteer!)

Track Oil slicks: Help track the spill by reporting oil slicks. Call (985) 781-0804



Three Saturday Public Workshops Wildlife Education/Eco-Recovery (Dept. of Fish & Game, locations here)

Baykeeper is soliciting volunteers, and its environmental vessel has been patroling the bay for overlooked problems; a worthy, dedicated org that’s a sentinel for us all…

Haas Center for Public Service: Year-round opportunities to Help Animals & Wildlife, like Wildlife Rescue…

Shaping Youth (ok, yours truly) would like to urge you to make a donation to ANY of your favorite local or national eco-wildlife-ocean programs no matter where you live on the planet…

We all know the liability of this clean-up will no doubt be paid for/handled by the responsible tanker, but these other orgs need your help for sustainability year-round!

Reminder!!! Per IBRRC (35 years saving birds!)

Do not attempt to wash, feed or house oiled birds!

This oil is extremely toxic. The use of proper gloves and protocols must be followed to insure the safety of the public AND the animals! Please report oiled animals through proper protocols!

877-UCD-OWCN (877-823-6926)

Update from IBRRC: 11/11/07: “After frustration with the state’s oiled bird reporting phone system, new numbers were released Sunday morning:

In San Francisco: 311. Outside SF: (415) 701-2311

Also, IBRRC setup an online reporting form last night to submit oiled bird sightings. This is a public service to insure all oiled wildlife field sightings get reported.

Other Relevant Shaping Youth Kids’ Eco-Posts

Planting Earthseeds Via The Magic School Bus: Eco-Media For Kids

The Great Turtle Race: Digital Media Cartoon Critter Fun (with conservation int’l)

Inspire Kids With Green Media: Kid-Vid & Games Galore

New Media Worldometers Help Data Click With Kids

Media Savvy Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder

The Nature of Tweens: Wired Worlds & Outdoor Ed

Shaping Youth Through Nature, Media Unplugged

Eco-Friendly Electronics, Go Green With Your Wired World

The 11th Hour: Leonardo DiCaprio’s New Documentary

5th International Symposium/Youth Collaboratory: Digital Earth

Green Media & Electric Cars: New Energy Shaping Youth

Care2 Make A Difference? Social Media/Kids

Digital Activism: Kids Stump for Change (World Wildlife Fund)

Youth Atwitter On LiveEarth Concert 7-07-07

Can Somethin’ Be Done About All This Consumption?

Inconvenient Truth Meets Digital Earth, Marketing Hope

Teen Thrive Earth Fest: Social Media & Green Teens

Can Somethin’ Be Done About All This Consumption?

Crass Commercialism, Interactive ‘Tude (Bratz Dolls/Walmart)

Visual Credits:

Coastal Steward Badge: Ca. Coastal Commission

Clean-Up Workers: S.F. Chronicle, Michael Macor via SFGate.com

Oil-soaked Bird & Video: S.F. Chronicle, Frederic Larson via SFGate.com

How Green Works Graphic: How Stuff Works website, including “10 things you can do to save the earth.” Shaping Youth’s full feature on HSW is found in our “inspire kids with green media” post, see links above!



  1. Also, lip-sticking.com hat tipped this mini-roundup in USA Today called, “7 Ways to Teach Your Kids How to Be Green”


  2. Reno Taini, experiential, environmental educator says

    Hello, Good stuff you do. It helps me feel better today. In 1971 I took my class from Jefferson High School in Daly City on week-long backpacking experiences to connect with the environment. That Monday morning in January of 1971 we left the school and decided to drive by Ocean Beach to see what an oil spill was like. It had happened less than 24hours earlier Some 800,000 gallons of oil poured out into the bay after two Standard Oil tankers collided. I had never seen anything so big and so clearly devestating.The students left the vehicles and went down to the beach and met the shallow waves of oil and birds. Yes, it was a big mess. Up on the coast high way #1, right where Balboa Ave. ends there was a portable construction trailer just setting up a command center. There were 5 huge trucks and trailers loaded with bails of straw being unloaded. The workers were all in hardhats and they had pitch forks.The kids saw their struggle to get these bails to the beach and then to break them appart and spread them along the shoreline. These were flowerchildren times. It was an amazing connection. T

    The kids, the workers of the establishment, and awesome environmental accident. I went up into the head shed where the command post was being set up and said my students and myself want to be of help. We are organized. We are self sufficient. And we are here….

    This was a time when the possible in connection and expression was so pure that commonsense prevailed. The answer was YES.

    I had then the responsibility for 30 students working with teams of Standard Oil employees on that beach. It was more than that. By 10 a.m. that Monday morning more and more people arrived. The students carrying bails down the beach, and the students pitchforking, were joined by others who came to help. The tide turned, it got worst. Birds. We had be given salmon landing nets to get the birds that were appearing more and more thrashing in the water. By now there were hundreds of volunteers on that beach. I was given an assistant in a white hard hat and a walkie talkie device that guided the expanding operation to having my students to introduce the new volunteers to the basic safety and use of the provided equipment for the jobs. And on and on it went. Food arrived. Gloves arrived. Portable toilets arrived. The Red Cross arrived. The National Guard arrived. I was now given charge of 400 soldiers that worked around the corner from the cliff house to Baker Beach. Well, theres more. A full 5days more. We worked from dawn to dusk. All of us TOGETHER for the environment.

    I have photos that brings tears to my eyes…..tears of what a precious human expression that volunteer response that happened so spontaneously was……..My students connected with the total environment that week. It was beyond the lesson plans.

    A month later the Standard Oil Co. sent a team of 5 people in suits to Jefferson High School. We set up a big meeting in the school cafeteria. Out of their brief cases came papers. It was simple. This was a pay line for all the volunteers. Every student in my class was given a check for $50 ! Then there were the other100 0r more students who left school those days to work with us. I kept the roll. They were all verified. The boots and the clothes they dirtied in the work with that oil were replaceable now. I asked for some of the used tools, These were given to help with our school gardening program and other conservation projects we were doing. This is only a small part of the story. There is so so much more. But,the fact is we were there as volunteers. What resulted mattered in that cleanup operation.

    It remains today as one of those incidents that is beyond evaluation. And no person got hurt. I smell more fumes today when I fill up at the gas station. And I still want to help out. Those young people are older now. They know. Today the youth are our most underused resource in this country. I was lucky. I worked along with them and for them.

  3. This story inspired me and at the same time made me weep, because the spontaneity of everyone uniting en masse as one force, is one of the truly beautiful ironies of tragedy.

    The sad part is that the ‘liability’ issues these days would probably have those employees staving off/pushing away kids that wanted to help due to litigious concerns, brushing them aside worried about pitchfork pokes, strawbail lifting injuries, or toxic oil exposure… sigh.

    As with any huge crisis where hearts and minds meld into action before people have time to ‘over-think’ there is a rawness in the pain/anger/trauma that bond beings in the same moment for life, especially those kids you gave hope and ignited their power to make a difference and help, hands-on.

    It’s positive fuel that’s no doubt stayed with them for life…Such a pleasure to hear your story…encore, encore! In case you have time to pingback at some point, what are your favorite youth volunteer programs for hands-on action? (Top 3 globally, nationally, locally?)

    I’d love to recruit you to ‘volunteer’ for a special guest editorial on kids making a difference…???

  4. Interesting, How about instead of relying on oil to be shipped around in the ocean from foreign sources that jack up the price of oil so much that it costs over $3 a gallon we instead drill in Alaska and more in the Gulf of Mexico and Anwar. Funny how a lot of the places we are told not to drill be left wing nut case environmentalists are the same places where other countries are drilling with less clean technology than we have. If we would drill in Alaska and in the US then it would and could be shipped via land cargo without these spills. Not only that but our gas prices would come down because we wouldn’t be relying on foreign oil, thus bringing down their prices due to supply and demand ALL WHILE WE RESEARCH AND TEST NEW FUEL RESOURCES like hydrogen fuel. A lot of facts are left out by the environmentalists when it comes to nature, like the wild fires in California becoming “super fires” because of the burning brush that was never to be cleared out because of environmentalists protest. OR how there are more trees in the United States than ever before because for every tree we cut down we plant more than 2 in it’s place. This oil spill is disturbing because it happened in the water and it hurt wild life and the eco system surrounding it. But come on people let’s get our oil more locally so we don’t have to deal with that……….

  5. Roger Campos says

    I remember going to Brisbane with Reno Taini’s class in the late 70’s to help residents with flood damage. We went into home to help remove damaged rugs and furniture. The energy of youth focused in a constructive direction is something to behold. From the perspective of youth, to have a mentor who will take the time to work shoulder to shoulder with you is priceless.

  6. fyi: This just in from Film Arts, S.F. (not exactly for kids…) but pertains to some of the comments above:

    “Documentary screening: 11/28: “Oil & Ice” about the Arctic/fuel scenario: Screenings of films about the Environment

    To take place at:
    Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco
    100 Potrero Avenue
    San Francisco, CA 94103

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007
    7:00p – 10:00p

    Oil on Ice
    Produced and Directed by Dale Djerassi and Bo Boudart

    The documentary film Oil on Ice is an examination of the battle over oil development within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This is a classic struggle in a stunning place, featuring the dramatic wildlife that adapted to this environment and the cultures of the Gwich’in Athabascan Indians and Inupiat Eskimos that rely on this wildlife for their subsistence.”

    To Roger, above, I hope you and Reno have a mini-reunion of sorts and that he sees this note…very moving sentiment, especially since I spent last weekend at the environmental Ease conference and listened to several oil/beach/clean-up horror stories on the public pushoff and bureaucratic liability front…It’s not just the KIDS who are upset they’re unable to help…sheesh…You wouldn’t believe the number of fully trained/adult volunteers w/experience in oil clean-ups being turned away due to legal beagles. argh. Calgon take me away…bleh.

    Giving kids hands-on helping out/make a difference mentoring experiences is an invaluable gift, and I’m so thrilled that you had the chance to be a youth under the tutelage of Reno, who sounds like a great teacher of life skills indeed…

  7. Update from Baykeeper today:

    “December 10—Baykeeper Oil Spill Update

    The Cosco Busan crash spilled 58,000 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay over a month ago. Hundreds of workers are still out on our coastlines. Oiled birds are still washing up dead on our shores. And Baykeeper is still at work making sure a disaster like this doesn’t happen again.

    Baykeeper’s Oil Response Activities Update

    Baykeeper is working actively with the Bay Area Assembly Members on an oil spill legislative package. The joint legislative effort was convened by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, and included Assembly Members Mark Leno, Sally Lieber, Jared Huffman, Lois Wolk and Ira Ruskin. The new bills would facilitate better use of volunteers, increase funding for spill preparedness, fund research into cutting-edge oil containment technologies, increase response efforts in environmentally sensitive areas like Bolinas Lagoon, and expand wildlife rehabilitation programs. We also are working with Senator Barbara Boxer to develop federal legislation to effectively harness volunteer services in future spill disaster response and to improve the authority of the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Systems.

    Focus on Marin County

    Baykeeper is analyzing how well booming and oil recovery strategies in the Area Contingency Plan worked in protecting sensitive areas like Bolinas Lagoon. Baykeeper and Assemblyman Jared Huffman will hold a town hall meeting this Sunday, December 16 from 2-4 pm at the Stinson Beach Community Center.

    We want to hear testimony from Marin County residents and officials who took part in efforts to respond to the oil spill — including attempts to boom Bolinas Lagoon.

    We also hope to hear your stories if you witnessed official containment and clean up efforts and wish to comment on their timeliness and effectiveness. Please contact volunteer@baykeeper.org if you have special accessibility concerns or need an interpreter at the event.

    Natural Resources Damage Assessment Update
    We are happy to report that scientists have been allowed back out onto the shorelines in order to assess the damage caused to rocky intertidal areas by the oil spill. A lack of safety plans and HAZWOPER training seem to have been the primary obstacles in initiating this critical inventory of ecological damages. Over the weekend, Baykeeper took researchers out by boat to heavily hit areas of Angel Island to study the oiled shoreline.

    How You Can Help

    We need your help to document oil sightings in your area so that we ensure a full response to areas that remain oiled. If you see oil, please call the California Office of Emergency Services at 800-852-7550 and tell them you are reporting oil from the Cosco Busan.

    Then, please alert Baykeeper of what you have seen (how much, where, and when — include photos if you have any) to volunteer@baykeeper.org. We will continue following up on cleanup efforts. Please be careful to not harm marine habitat during low tide and keep a distance from birds, which are still under stress from the oil spill. We also recommend that you refrain from walking your dog along the shoreline for now.

    You can also help directly by becoming a member of Baykeeper. The more members we have, the more sway we have in legal and policy making proceedings. You can join by making a donation of $15 or more to Baykeeper on our website at http://www.baykeeper.org/donate/index.html.

    Responding to the oil spill is not something we planned for in this year’s budget, so your financial contribution helps us pay for the thousand plus hours of staff time we have already spent responding to this emergency.”

  8. From BayKeeper today…sigh.

    “Early this morning, a tug boat in the Carquinez Strait hit a gasoline pipeline near the Tesoro refinery in Martinez, spilling gasoline into the Bay. Not long after, a sewage overflow from a treatment plan in Marin sent 64,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater into Raccoon Strait. The Bay is under constant pressure from a dense urban landscape, from shoreline industrial facilities like oil and gas companies and from increased shipping traffic throughout the Bay. Baykeeper is your pollution watchdog, working to protect the Bay.

    * Baykeeper was on the scene of the gas spill today, closely monitoring the response in order to ensure that lessons learned from last November’s 53,000-gallon oil spill are put into action. While it appears the leak is small, the situation offers an opportunity to evaluate response measures and determine where improvements are needed before another crisis occurs. Baykeeper served on the Coast Guard committee to evaluate the response to last November’s oil spill, and we’re eager to see the recommendations from the committee put in place. We’ve also been working with Bay Area state assemblymembers to sponsor and support legislation that will improve oil spill preparedness and response throughout California.

    * Baykeeper is now investigating the details of this morning’s sewage spill into Raccoon Strait. Earlier this year, Baykeeper launched a Sick of Sewage initiative in response to numerous sewage overflows to the Bay — including an overflow of more than 5 million gallons from a plant in Mill Valley. With your help, we’re stepping up our decade-long campaign to end sewage spills to the Bay by calling for a total overhaul of the Bay Area’s crumbling sewage infrastructures.

    You can help Baykeeper’s efforts by making a contribution today. We’re a small but mighty advocate for the Bay, and your support provides much-needed funds to keep our boat on the water and our staff in front of officials. Please donate today.

    P.S. You can also support Baykeeper by attending our 2008 Gala fundraiser on Friday, May 30. Please join us for a special night to celebrate the community’s ability to come together to protect the Bay and to raise funds for Baykeeper’s work.’

  9. Oil Spills can be cleaned up better and more throughly with environmently safer products on the
    market now if the oil companys were to start using some of these available technolagies Plus more birds
    and wildlife could be saved not to mention the increased safty to the environment

  10. We would like to reprint the photo of the oiled bird in the water you have on your website. Can we have permission and can you send a high resolution jpeg of it to me please?
    Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary

  11. Hi Michelle, I don’t have a high res jpeg of it as it belongs to Frederic Larsen, a photojournalist friend at the SF Chronicle, but I’m sure he’d gladly allow with attribution as it’s pretty much standard fare as long as it’s for nonprofit/edu use vs. for profit. Here’s the Fair Use/Social Media guidelines I use for our nonprofit when it’s not Creative Commons: http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/blogs/fair_use/

    And here’s a jpeg with his name listed for attribution…he can reached at the paper too: https://shapingyouth.org:8000/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/oil-bird.jpg

  12. I just stumbled upon your article and organization, and I’m so glad to know you exist! I run a summer cmap for youth activists 11-16, and I bet your daughter would love it! It’s called Youth Empowered Action (YEA). Check out our website at http://www.yeacamp.org for details! We’d also be interested in having you give a talk at camp about media issues if you’re interested and available!

    Thanks for the good work you do!


  13. Nora, So you’re based in Portland? (I’m in the SF Bay Area) Just “liked” you on FB, & am now following you on Twitter, so we can keep in touch. Glad you liked the oilspill piece on kids’ activism, and you might want to check out the tweet I just sent out about Xeko’s Gaming For Good to help the sea turtles with same…(it’s SOOOO impt. that youth not get so depressed/blue that our attempts to ‘market hope’ fall flat)

    #Kids feeling helpless over #oilspill? @Xeko has teamed w/ @AudubonZoo to help Sea Turtles @GamingForGood #VW #gamers #nonprofit #youth #eco

    You might also appreciate the post I wrote about Santa Cruz since it looks like you have a YEA hub there, too? https://shapingyouth.org/?p=5770

    Would love to hear more on that, as it’s less than a plane flight away! (we try to go down a lot during the summer)

    Let’s keep in touch, as I’d love to hear more about your work and vice-versa! Love the YEA acronym…says it all…Speaking of which, (YEA) see link below on yesterday’s fete/musical feat!

    Best, Amy

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