Sticky fingers, sticky toes.
Due to the high presence of tar, walking on Santa Barbara beaches can quickly become a sticky situation. But before you call the Environmental Protection Agency and start protesting oil drilling off the coast, there are a few facts to know.
Oil platforms are not the cause of the problem; in fact, Rick Merrifield, supervising environmental specialist for environmental public health said they help solve it.
“We would have tar with or without the platforms,” he said. “The drilling activity actually relieves pressure and helps reduce the amount of tar that washes up on the beaches.”
The tar, which plagues surfers, swimmers and sunbathers alike, cannot be avoided or even controlled. For the most part, the tar washing up on Santa Barbara’s beaches comes from natural oil seeps deep in the ocean’s geological formations. It is a natural substance produced by chemical processes occurring within the rock formations under the water.
The tar, a mixture of methane gas and natural deposits from rocks, currently poses no known threat to offshore ecosystems, with the exception of being an inconvenience for birds, Merrifield said. However, recent research shows that there is a possibility that it is disruptive to food chains and habitats of smaller forms of sea life including fish, bacteria and single-cell organisms.
The tar is also an inconvenience for humans. The gooey matter is a common annoyance for surfers and other beach-goers that often get tar on their feet and in their hair.
“I surf and always have the tar all over me,” freshman electrical engineering major Jessica Scott said. “It’s no big deal, the baby oil takes it right off.”
To remove the tar from your feet, a nonpolar solvent like kerosene or paint thinner can be used, Merrifield said, but the safest thing to use is baby oil.
Some students, however, are not bothered by the sticky stuff.
“I like the tar; it gives the beach character,” undeclared freshman Ed De Courreges said. “I’ve always wondered how it tastes.”