The toil with oil

The early October oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach sparked problems for surfers and wildlife

On Oct. 1, boaters reported a shimmering oil sheen and a rotten egg odor off the Huntington Beach coast. The following day, diving teams explored the area and determined that an oil spill had occurred. Governor Newsom called a state of emergency and the Coast Guard was assigned to the initially estimated 126,000 gallons of oil spilled by Huntington Beach, greatly affecting both beach goers and conservationists. 

This call to action led an estimated 1,600 personnel to the spill cleanup. It also closed beaches in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Dana Point. 

Patrick Hynes, RUHS junior and varsity surfer, expressed his frustration with the closed beaches, as it prevented him from surfing in the Orange County area.  

“I feel like these situations keep on happening, and it seems as if they are just waiting for the next spill instead of trying to stop the next one. I haven’t been able to go out to Orange County for a week now. I hope we keep our beaches clean so these beaches can be used by the next generation,” Hynes said. 

After further investigations conducted by the Coast Guard, it was determined the pipeline responsible for the massive oil spill could have been damaged up to a year before it leaked thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean. According to CBS News, officials have said that the pipeline was “likely struck by an anchor multiple times and dragged across the ocean floor for more than 100 feet.”

Further investigation did, however, give us a more accurate spill number, as the estimated amount of oil spilled was lowered to at least 30,000 gallons. Additionally, the pipeline halted further spillage. 

“I really appreciate the efforts of the Coast Guard and the clean up crew because without them this mess will never get cleaned up. I was planning on heading out there with my friends to offer any help we can,” Hynes said.

The spill has resulted in greater implications than closing beaches for surf lovers. According to Gillian Moberg, AP Environmental Science teacher, the ocean currents brought the oil south. Oil sheen and tar balls ended up in Talbert Marsh, ensuring at least some harm to the biodiversity. 

“Oil is a carcinogen, it causes cancer in marine mammals, so we’d expect cancer rates to go up, that’s going to be a long term effect. Dead oil coated fish if ingested by birds unknowingly pass toxins along food chains, therefore the full ecological impact is unknown,” Moberg said.

According to the Voice of OC, the Orange County wetlands are home to 23 endangered species, many of which are birds. This oil spill is a massive threat to these birds. 

“Birds get hypothermia, because the oil makes their feathers clump together and they don’t get insulation from their feathers. We are expecting many birds to die,” Moberg said. 

For conservationists, this disaster sparks recollections of once nearly destroyed marshes. Matas Jeneliauskas, an RUHS junior and former volunteer for the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, expressed his concerns for the Talbert Marsh and neighboring marshes. 

“It makes me sad because it reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of the wetlands being destroyed to make room for industrial development. These wetlands used to be around 3,000 acres and they’re about 180 acres now. I hope we don’t see any more losses to these marshes because they’re a great way to get out and learn about California’s amazing biodiversity,” Jeneliauskas said.  

Though volunteering for wetlands and beach clean ups aren’t open to the public just yet, you can check the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy and the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center for when they are.

“Once volunteering opens, I hope as many people as possible go out and help the efforts to clean up the marshes and beaches,” Jeneliauskas said. “It’s a duty you owe to California.”