Visitors worry about impact of oil spill near Santa Barbara County coast

Visitors to Santa Barbara County coast saddened as they witness oil cleanup that marred beach

At a rest area in Santa Barbara County along the 101 Freeway, roughly where oil spewed from a pipeline, a steady stream of travelers and residents stopped to watch the cleanup effort.

As a helicopter buzzed incessantly overhead and cleanup boats corralled slimy crude in long yellow booms, Angel Waters, 34, of Silver Lake shook her head.

"This is crazy," Waters said. "We were just camping at Refugio [State Beach] on Monday. We were watching whales and dolphins, smelling the sea and thinking how beautiful it was. Now this."

Waters resigned herself to the fact that this would probably not be the area's last spill.

"This is not a surprise," Waters said. "We've had much worse. But we just keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result."

Waters had arrived with friend Marie Strugala, 38, of Phoenix. Strugala said she'd visited California plenty of times, but had never seen an oil spill before.

"I wonder what happened to those whales and dolphins we saw," Strugala said.

While wildlife and state park officials don’t have an estimate on the environmental impact, some victims were emerging.

Photographer Reeve Woolpert, 69, of Summerland came down to an area near the spill from Refugio and saw by the shore a brown pelican covered in oil.

He told officials with the Fish and Wildlife and State Parks departments about the bird but after three hours nobody came by, he said.

"I said this bird wants to live, it's a fighter,” Woolpert said.

So he wrapped the bird in his T-shirt and climbed the bluffs up to the train tracks where the spill first crossed toward the ocean.

A fish and wildlife worker arrived and took the blackened bird away in a cardboard box.

Among those onlookers who had stopped to watch the spectacle was Renner Wunderlich, 68, of Carpenteria, who held his dog Mya, a husky mix, on a leash.

Wunderlich said he works for a marine mammal rescue organization and had just dropped off a sea lion pup at a nearby wildlife rehabilitation facility. He pulled over in his car to assess the size of the spill.

"We've been rescuing sea lion pups up and down the coast and this is the type of thing that could have hit them bad,” Wunderlich said. “Fortunately this is a relatively small spill compared to others."

Robert Sears, 57, of Fairfax felt a pang of guilt run through him as boats skimmed crude from the ocean's surface.

"I came here to watch whales," the Bay Area robotics engineer said. "What I see instead are containment booms. What can I say, we're really ruining our world."

Sears said he had hoped to see migrating humpback whales breaching the surface and then spend the rest of the day riding his bike. As he leaned against his black SUV, he confided that it only got 15 miles to the gallon.

"Look at the car I'm driving," Sears said, shaking his head. "I’m not feeling good about that. Would I rather be driving French fry oil? Sure."

Twitter: @montemorin 

Javier Panzar contributed to this report.

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