California oil spill sparks race to save wildlife
The first victims are seabirds, graceful creatures that alight on the surface of the ocean. They landed on the slick of oil that escaped from a ruptured pipeline, plunging through its toxic shard.
Large mammals such as dolphins and whales may swim in the short term, seek new habitat, but smaller sea creatures, including guitarfish, bat rays and horn sharks, live in estuaries and rivers. Southern California lagoons, swim right by its coastal beaches and feed along the now contaminated shoreline off Orange County.
Next are those tiny sand crabs tickling your toes in the choppy area, where waves push over the sloping waterfront leaving lines of foam and tufts of oil. They are the base of the so-called sandy beach food chain, and they don’t stand a chance if an oil spill hits them – like the one first reported on Saturday, with nearly 130,000 gallons spilling into the canal. by Catalina.
The potential for damage doesn’t stop there, and the big questions loom: What can be cleaned up? How can we clean it? How long will the effects of the spill last?
“There is a real emergency in rescuing affected wildlife right now, and experts have excellent strategies for cleaning up the wildlife,” said Christine Whitcraft, professor of biological sciences at Cal State Long Beach. “But I’m concerned about the long-term impact on oiled soils and oiled plants if it reaches the swamp plain.”
Places such as Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach, a restored 25-acre wetland where up to 80 different bird species can be seen, including great blue herons, brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants and western gulls. Sunday, the oil had already arrived.
The State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife has predetermined strategies to protect sensitive sites during disasters such as the weekend spill. Agency spokesman Eric Laughlin estimated Monday there were around 600 statewide; those at risk here include the Bolsa Chica Lagoon and the Talbert Marsh.
“One of the first things we did with this response was that our scientists oversaw the deployment of booms in this area to protect them,” he said. “It was our main priority. Unfortunately, we saw a slight chip in Talbert Marsh, but we are doing everything we can to protect these sites.
Wildlife officials do not yet have an estimate of how many birds, fish, marine mammals and other creatures died in the spill. But Monday at noon, only four birds had been captured by fish and wild animals; that number is expected to increase by the end of the day.
The agency has temporarily banned commercial and recreational fishing in the region’s fisheries, an area that stretches about 20 miles from Sunset Beach in the south to Dana Point and stretches from the shore six miles in the ocean. The fear is that contaminated fish could pose a health risk to anyone who eats them.
“We have a large number of fishermen and women who are mostly recent immigrants, fishing for their livelihood,” said Sean Anderson, chair of the environmental science and resource management program at Cal State Channel Islands. Fish such as the croaker “are found in areas where they are exposed to these substances, are on land and are easily targeted by fishermen.” They sequester toxins in their tissues. It’s safer for the fish, but if we eat fish, that’s a problem.
Anderson has researched oil spills in California, Louisiana, and the Middle East. After the 2015 oil spill that tainted the area near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, Anderson documented the deaths of miniature-sized sand crabs, also known as mole crabs, ” which are the basis of our ecosystem of sandy beaches. Everything eats them, ”he said. “They are exactly where the waves break, perfectly aligned to be dropped by this incoming oil.”
By the time the oil hits them, it is usually so-called weathered oil, which has been exposed to air, sunlight, and wave action. It is often in sticky balls mixed with sand called “cookies”. Untouched, Anderson said, it’s not as toxic as “the raw materials that come out of the pipeline. … Once a creature steps on it, opens the scab, the most poisonous shit is inside.
Anderson and his colleagues collected weathered oil, brought it to their labs, and exhibited clean, sound sand crabs there. The result was a large number of dead sand crabs, even at low concentrations of toxic chemicals in the oil.
“If it doesn’t kill them,” he said, “it will kill and poison their eggs, their babies. It is not permanent, but there is absolutely a strong impact on the sandy beach. … No one saves or cleans up sand crabs.
They try to save and clean up the birds which end up smeared with oil.
Oil affects seabirds in two particularly harmful ways. The feathers create air pockets that insulate the birds from dangerously low temperatures and keep them warm, Anderson said. When covered with sludge, these pockets disappear and birds can suffer from hypothermia.
Birds keep their downy – and therefore protective – feathers while preening. But every time they dip their beaks into oil-soaked feathers, they ingest some of the poisonous substances, trying to cleanse themselves. They may vomit or feel dizzy in the short term, Anderson said. Over the course of hours or days, if they live that long, their organs can shut down.
But cleaning an oiled bird is more of an art than a science, said Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.
First, the birds are placed in a tub filled with a solution of lukewarm water and liquid dish detergent. Stirring the solution allows it to penetrate the space under and through the bird’s feathers. Next, a Water Pik device is used to clean sensitive areas of the bird – near the eyes, nose, and mouth.
“As the water tanks are oiled, we will move on to the next tank,” Ziccardi said. “Heavily and heavily oiled birds can take 15 to 20 tubs of this soapy water. “
After that, the soapy bird should be thoroughly rinsed with specialized nozzles using a water pressure of between 20 and 50 pounds per square inch. That’s because “the microstructure of the feathers is almost like velcro,” Ziccardi said, and the soap used to clean the bird also prevents its feathers from realigning properly.
“The pieces of velcro have to fit together for the feathers to be waterproof,” he said in an interview. “You are rinsing it dry. The longer you rinse off the soap, the feathers will start to regain this structure and you will actually have water that will start to bead on the outside of the bird.
According to Ziccardi, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network has a 50 to 75% success rate in returning oiled animals to a clean environment.
The three oiled birds found on Sunday include a brown pelican, a coot and a duck. The pelican sustained serious injuries and had to be euthanized, Ziccardi said. A fourth bird, a sanderling, arrived on Monday.
Ziccardi called the number of birds rescued so far “surprisingly low”. It is possible that the migratory patterns were aligned with the spill and that the wildlife in the area was lucky. Without a doubt, more animals have been affected, he said, adding that “there will be more animals that will be affected by this incident than the number of animals we can actually collect.”
He also warned that the public “shouldn’t try to catch oiled animals – it’s not safe.” Rescuers do not accept volunteers from the public, he said, because “we have people trained for a week or more” and they are “ready” to execute.
It’s a warning well-meaning animal lovers should heed.
As town cars and workers patrolled quiet stretches of beach now closed to the public, tourists and residents alike strolled along Huntington Pier, discussing the startling disaster of the weekend and which restaurant to explore. For dinner. Their conversation turned to the “void on the sand,” with barely the sound of barking dogs on the promenade or birds flying away.
Drake Bates, a grocery storekeeper feeding his dachshund a cup of coffee filled with whipped cream, said as an animal lover he was concerned about the creatures threatened by the oil spill.
“If I saw someone or something injured, of course I would try to help,” said the Huntington Beach local who walks by the water almost every day. “I would clean it, bring it home to pick it up, then bring it back.”
His mother told him about a “cleaning event” for pets and other critters held in the area, he said, intending to do some research.
“If I don’t help right away, who will?” I would wear gloves. I wouldn’t wait until the last minute, “said Bates,” because it might be too late. “
Maurice Lawson, who studied kinesiology at the University of La Verne, said he too would feel obligated to help. But he would do it by calling on the experts.
“There are resources and people who know the good things we call it,” said the Brea resident. “Mishaps happen and it affects everyone, not just human beings. We need to protect ecosystems and protect marine life.
“Like calling 911 for emergencies, you need to contact those who have training. “
Times editor Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.