As the Orange County oil spill prompts clean up efforts all along the region’s coast, members of Orange Coast College’s Marine and Environmental Science Departments shared their expertise on the topic.
“You always know this kind of thing is always a possibility,” said Robert Ellis, OCC Marine Science professor.
Oil began washing ashore in Huntington Beach on Oct. 3, coming from a Long Beach-based pipeline owned by Amplify Energy. While investigations have begun to better determine the original cause of the spill, the Associated Press reported that a ship anchored and hit Amplify’s pipeline, dragging it along the seafloor.
“If they really are saying it was a tanker with it’s anchor dragging, and after seeing all of those tankers that have been sitting on our coastline, it almost seemed like it was inevitable if this was the case,” said Kelli Elliot, OCC Environmental Science professor.
Elliot also highlighted that organisms have a strong hold on the material they latch onto, meaning the pipeline could’ve been moved regardless of the marine growth found on it.
“Some of these organisms have a pretty good hold on their substrate,” Elliot said.
The Associated Press reported on Oct. 14 that around 25,000 gallons of crude oil was spilled into the ocean, causing major ecological harm. The City of Huntington Beach posted an update of the spill on Oct. 11, stating that approximately 5,544 gallons of oil had been removed from the water.
“They're saying that it's up to something around 3,000 barrels and that's about 60 gallons per barrel,” Elliot said. “That's a lot of oil that's out there.”
Huntington Beach reopened their beaches to the public on Oct. 11, and Laguna Beach reopened their beaches on Oct. 14. The OC Health Care Agency released an update on the spill on Thursday, stating that data received from Orange County water samples do not indicate a public health concern for short-term exposures from the use of beaches in the county.
“The oil gets broken up [by dispersants] so that it gets mixed better with the water, making it easier for organisms to absorb the oil,” Elliot said.
The City of Huntington Beach stated that Fire and Marine Safety personnel have been deployed to contain the oil, due to the substantial ecological impacts at the beach and Huntington Beach Wetlands. Along with this, The Voice of OC reported more than 10,000 volunteers have signed up to help with the cleanup up process as of Oct. 13.
UC Davis’ Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) reported a total of 84 birds, with 31 alive and 53 dead, have been recovered from the spill as of Oct. 14. NBC Los Angeles captured footage of two birds being released by the OWCN on Oct. 13, returning back to their natural habitat.
“[The oil] can really cause damage to birds or marine mammals if it gets in their feathers or fur, because if they're warm blooded, that air layer that they need is really important for keeping them warm.” Ellis said.
Although the OC oil spill has harmed the coast’s ecosystem, there were a few environmental factors that prevented the event from causing further devastation. One of these benefits include the light winds that let vessels successfully deploy more than 11,400 feet of booms, skimming around 5,500 gallons of oil from the water, according to reporting by the LA Times.
“We have a prevailing California current that runs along our coastline, heading south. That's why San Diego is seeing evidence of this whereas Long Beach is not,” Elliot said.
California’s current has allowed accurate predictions of the oil’s travel route, and according to Elliot, served as one of the silver linings of the spill.
Amid cleanup efforts, California’s use of fossil fuels has been addressed by environmentalists in the media. Laura Deehan, the state director of Environment California, said the spill is a reminder of the toxic dangers of oil in a statement on Oct. 3.
“We need to keep the memory of the event or have people turn on the memory by continuing to bring it up. [It takes] the people who make noise to continue making noise.” Elliot said.
OCC Marine Science Professor Robert Ellis, who has signed up for oil spill volunteer training, recommends those who are also interested in the cleanup to read further details on California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife website about joining OWCN member organizations.
“Students can get trained in some of those courses, so that way if anything like this happens again, they have the background necessary to be a part of the immediate response,” Ellis said.