Banded pelican linked to OSPR restoration project in Mexico

A photograph of a brown pelican with a red leg band signified an interesting connection to OSPR executive Steve Hampton. Hampton, an avid birder and 20-year veteran of oil spill restoration, captured the image in Half Moon Bay and knew the band meant it was born and tagged in Mexico.

After searching the internet and exchanging a few emails regarding this bird that was marked “X567,” Hampton discovered something he did not expect – the pelican he saw came from one of the restoration projects that he helped plan!

The bird originated from a pelican colony on San Martín Island, one of the project sites that helped restore seabirds after the Luckenbach oil spills.

“My research led me to the Mexican conservation organization Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas, a sub-contractor for the Luckenbach restoration project,” Hampton said. “They told me they banded this bird as a juvenile on July 7, 2017 on San Martín Island.”

Grupo de Ecología y Conservación in Baja California focuses on restoring seabirds and mainland birds in Mexico. The majority of the pelicans seen in California come from breeding colonies in Baja California.

The SS Jacob Luckenbach collided with its sister ship SS Hawaiian Pilot in 1953 and sank to the ocean floor approximately 17 miles out from the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco. The vessel periodically released bunker fuel into the ocean for decades.

State and federal agencies discovered the source of the oil spills in 2002 and OSPR partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard to remove oil from S.S. Jacob Luckenbach. The federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund paid for the response in addition to $22.7 million for the estimated 50,000 seabirds that died over the years.

Restoration trustees selected twelve projects to restore impacted seabirds, including the project in Baja California implemented by Grupo de Ecología y Conservación. International coordination and collaboration between U.S. and Mexican conservation organizations makes sense for migratory birds such as the brown pelican that do not know country boundaries.

Hampton worked as an economist for OSPR’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) before becoming a deputy director. NRDA studies environmental injuries from oil spills or other pollution damages and compensates the public for those losses through restoration projects. Since CDFW-OSPR’s inception, over $210 million in restoration projects have been funded through settlements.

“It was luck that a bird I observed had a connection to an oil spill restoration project that I helped make happen years ago,” said Hampton. “The event was a highlight of my summer!”