Huntington Beach oil spill could have major long-term impacts on local wildlife, experts say – CBS Los Angeles
HUNTINGTON BEACH (CBSLA) – Less than a week after a pipeline rupture sent tens of thousands of gallons of oil spilling into the ocean and washing up on Orange County beaches, the amount of wildlife affected by one of the worst spills in recent Southern California history appears to have been lower than expected.
However, a biologist says the effect on the ecosystem could persist over the long term.
On Wednesday, 13 oiled live birds and two dead birds were recovered by rescue teams, according to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.
This is a considerably lower number than in massive oil spills of the past, when hundreds of birds were killed. However, wildlife biologist Barry Nerhus, president of Endemic Environmental Services, a Huntington Beach-based environmental consultancy, says the worst is not over.
“There may still be long-term effects locally if the oil stays in the wetlands,” Nerhus said.
According to Nerhus, the impact will likely travel through the food chain in what he describes as bioaccumulation.
“It would most definitely affect the fish, and it would potentially go into our local fishery, if we eat this kind of fish locally it could be a health hazard,” Nerhus said.
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Nerhus notes that just because oil isn’t visible in so many places doesn’t mean it doesn’t interfere with the food chain.
“In particular, this is the fall migration, where many birds from the Arctic Circle, Alaska, Canada and the Pacific Northwest fly to winter here. They literally fly as we speak to reside in our wetlands. So, unwittingly, they could land on oil slicks and feed on relatively toxic water, ”Nerhus said.
Some have speculated that so few birds were injured because they took to the skies during last weekend’s Pacific Airshow. Nerhus says that with 97% of southern California’s wetlands gone, birds from the Bolsa Chica wetlands and the Santa Ana River salt marsh are unlikely to have flown anywhere.
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“I don’t think there is any information about a decrease in bird populations in the wetlands when the air show is taking place,” Nerhus said. “Maybe there was less theft activity back then, but they’re still there. And there are a lot of endangered birds that reside in these wetlands that have nowhere else to live, ”Nerhus said.
Nerhus said there was so much emphasis on cleaning up that crews may have missed out on some of the birds in need. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is now asking for volunteers to help spot injured birds. To find out how to volunteer, Click here.
The pipeline leak, which was reported Saturday morning off Huntington Beach, could have spilled up to 144,000 gallons of oil into ocean waters. The spill occurred in federal waters at the Elly Shelf, approximately 4 1/2 miles offshore. The platform and pipeline are owned by Amplify Energy, based in Houston.
Federal authorities have confirmed that a section of the Amplify Energy pipeline was damaged and moved more than 100 feet along the ocean floor, indicating that a ship’s anchor may have caused the spill.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All rights reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)