The History of Earth Day in Santa Barbara

by Bella Taylor April 17, 2024 3 min read

About 55 years ago, the largest oil spill in the history of California occurred off the Central Coast in Santa Barbara, leading to our very first Earth Day in the US. Numerous organizations have since formed with the mission of promoting environmental protection and celebrating the planet we live on.

Below the Santa Barbara Channel lies an abundant amount of oil that’s attracted mining engineers for decades now. Taking advantage of our earth’s natural resources, many oil rigs have stood tall above our ocean waves, but not all have lasted.

Union Oil Platform A was built in September of 1968 in Summerland waters. The rig had approximately 57 openings for oil wells to be drilled from, 4 of which had already been drilled pretty rapidly. 

In January of 1969, roughly 3 million gallons of oil from Platform A spilled onto Santa Barbara’s seashores as the rig suffered a blowout of mud, oil, and gas.

Our once-blue ocean water was painted black, as were our rocky reefs and other native marine life.

Over 3,000 tons of straw were spread across the beaches to absorb the oil in an attempt to revert the damage seeping out from Union Oil’s platform.

An outraged community worked to raise awareness and spark a rise in environmental activism after the sight of the ocean gained attention from public law makers in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency was then created and approved in the following years. 

Local grassroots organizations began to pop up around California, each with a goal to preserve Mother Nature and the world around us. Many groups that formed near the date of the spill are still present and running in today’s society, including Get Oil Out! and Community Environmental Council, to name a few.

The youth had a distinct impact on the establishment of Earth Day as students all over the country gathered on April 22, 1970 to protest the damage our environment endured from the year prior. Volunteers picked up trash and people attended teach-ins that contributed to the youth’s efforts against pollution.

Today, we officially recognize April 22nd as “Earth Day” to honor and recognize all that the Earth has given us, so we can give back to the Earth.

Multiple organizations in Santa Barbara County came to light following the day of the tragic oil spill in the late ‘60s as they used this historical event as an inspiration for change. Learn about a few of them here:

The Community Environmental Council has valued environmental policy, leadership, and justice for over 50 years now. They work everyday to reverse the harm of climate change and repair the damage that is done to envision a more promising future.

The Environmental Defense Center opened up in 1977 on the Central Coast of California with a mission to conserve wildlife, maintain clear oceans, and build a strong community fit for environmental action.

The Environmental Studies program at UCSB equips students with the advanced skill and knowledge needed to face environmental challenges. The program draws connections on humans and our interactions with the world, leading to a better understanding of our direct effect on the environment.

Get Oil Out! was one of the first companies to emerge after the oil spill of 1969. Their goal is to protect the Earth from further petroleum development by advocating for change and raising public awareness.

Heal the Ocean was formed in August of 1998 by ocean lovers who strived to fight against pollution in our beaches. They now focus on sewer and septic systems to help keep our coast clean.

These organizations make up just some of the countless remarkable endeavors that have been made in our area. Be sure to check out more of your local companies throughout the country to join us in our fight against environmental destruction.

Interested in making a difference? Here’s how you can help: 

  1. Volunteer for beach cleanups 
  2. Donate to your local organizations 
  3. Educate yourself on the effects of climate change 
  4. Vote for politicians who value climate justice 
  5. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Bella Taylor
Bella Taylor

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