Spilled shipping containers threaten wildlife

Shipping containers and packing materials lost off a ship outside the Golden Gate over the weekend could pose a threat to local wildlife and marine habitats, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.

The 40-foot steel containers, a dozen in total, fell off the ship Manoa Friday night in heavy seas just outside the Golden Gate. One washed ashore at Baker Beach over the weekend and others have been spotted in the water south of the Golden Gate and in the Pacifica area close to shore, the U.S. Coast Guard said earlier today.

Maria Brown, superintendent of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, today said both the containers and the packing materials that fell overboard with them pose a hazard to ocean wildlife and habitats.

The large shipping containers can permanently damage or destroy rocky reefs and coral, and smother animals and plants in sandy habitats when they sink, Brown said.

The spill has also sent large quantities of styrofoam and plastic crates washing up on beaches in San Francisco and Pacifica. Brown said the styrofoam, which persists in the environment for a long time, is of particular concern.

Brown said:

“It breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces that get mistaken for fish eggs. …¬†Animals will eat it but they can’t digest it and they can starve.”

NOAA projections indicate the containers are most likely to travel south from where they went into the water and could be found in an area extending from Pacifica south to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, Brown said.

Brown said the best thing would be for all the containers to be located and salvaged before they sank or came ashore. NOAA officials are working with the coast Guard and Matson Navigation Co. to locate the containers and asked anyone who spotted one to contact the Coast Guard at (415) 399-7300.