A sticky situation: Mystery Goo and Ongoing Threats to Bay Wildlife

A Black Oystercater stands along the MLK Shoreline in Oakland
The Black Oystercatcher pictured here is one of many species of Bay birds impacted by the “Mystery Goo.” Photo by: Rick Lewis

It has been painful over the last week to witness the impact of the “mystery goo” on birds in the Bay – a few of our staff saw the struggling birds and the people trying to help them near our restoration sites. We are so thankful that International Bird Rescue is working tirelessly to clean and revive as many birds as they can. Meanwhile, we are eagerly awaiting test results that will shine some light on what this substance is and where it might be coming from. The Bay is a permanent and temporary home to many bird species, including migratory birds that stop in the Bay during their journey along the Pacific Flyway. Clean and healthy Bay water is vital to ensuring that shorebirds have ample habitat and food to survive.

This incident is a stark reminder of how susceptible Bay wildlife are to water pollution. Fortunately, large-scale chemical and oil spills don’t happen often. But pollution is being released into local creeks and the Bay on a daily basis through urban runoff (also known as urban stormwater pollution). Urban runoff is the water the flows off of our buildings, lawns, cars, and streets and into storm drains, which release untreated, polluted water directly into creeks and the Bay. Since most of our urban areas are covered in concrete, runoff is not reabsorbed into the ground, where chemicals can be filtered out. Instead, the Bay becomes the unintended recipient of trash, fertilizers, detergents, pesticides, and any other chemical that gets washed into city streets.

While we aren’t sure what caused the mystery goo or how to prevent it, we do have the power to prevent trash and other pollutants from flowing from our city streets into the Bay. That’s why Save The Bay continues to partner with cities to adopt strategies and policies that can prevent water pollution, before the costly – and often impossible – task of cleaning it up becomes necessary.