Marshes, Shorebirds Could Face Biggest Threats From California Oil Spill

Marshlands and shorebirds could face the biggest threats following the oil spill in California, which has allowed over 100,000 gallons of oil to leak into the Pacific Ocean, according to some experts.

Chris D'Elia, the Dean of the College of the Coast and Environment at LSU, told Newsweek that when looking at an oil spill like this, the biggest concern is "shore birds."

"They are very seriously affected because oil coats their wings and they can't naturally get rid of it," D'Elia said. "So they'll have to be treated with a detergent to try to clean them off."

"So I think there will be substantial losses of wildfowl," D'Elia told Newsweek.

D'Elia also explained to Newsweek that while these birds in the area could be harmed by accidentally ingesting the oil as they attempt to clean themselves off, he noted that the biggest issue is that "they become immobilized."

"It's life-threatening in that sense," he said.

Nancy Kinner, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of New Hampshire told Newsweek that in addition to the oil spill affecting beaches, it is also harming marshes in the area, as they retain oil much longer than sandy beaches. Kinner is also the director of the University of New Hampshire's Coastal Response Research Center and Center for Spills and Environmental Hazards.

"Marshes are well known for being havens for wildlife of all types. There's the marsh grass, there's the mud that organisms can live in, and then of course that attracts fish. And it's a safe place for little fish to hang out until they grow bigger," Kinner said. "It attracts birds that prey on little fish."

Kinner continued, "Marshes and wetlands are really important to the ecosystem and so, it's really, really crucial that we understand what the damage is."

Kinner also explained to Newsweek that cleaning up oil is much harder in marshes than on sandy beaches. She noted that officials can dig and remove oil from beaches, which will still result in a loss of some organisms, "but not the rich and diverse organisms that you have in marshy areas."

While speaking with Newsweek, Kinner also discussed the possible "chronic injury" that some wildlife could face following the oil spill.

"One of the things we really learned in the Deep Water Horizon was that it's not only the dead animals. It's those animals that survive but have chronic injury," Kinner said. "They might get through it but maybe their reproductive success is lower. Maybe they can't swim as fast and so they are preyed upon more readily by their predator."

"There are some longer-lasting impacts that could be really damaging and impact ecosystems," Kinner added.

The oil spill, which was first reported by local officials on Saturday, occurred near the coast of Orange County's Huntington Beach after a pipeline was breached. According to the City of Huntington Beach, the "company responsible for the oil spill is Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation."

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr, previously said that the spill is "one of the most devastating situations our community has dealt with in decades."

"Rest assured that the team in Huntington Beach mobilized quickly, and we are proactively responding," Carr added during a recent press conference.

According to CNN, Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), said during a press conference on Monday that several injured birds have already been rescued from the oil spill and at least one pelican has already died.

In response to the spill, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Monday and said in a statement that "The state is moving to cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment."

Newsom continued, "As California continues to lead the nation in phasing out fossil fuels and combating the climate crisis, this incident serves as a reminder of the enormous cost fossil fuels have on our communities and the environment."

As of Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard, which is working to combat the spill, said that "approximately 4,158 gallons of oil has been recovered from the water and 8,700 feet of boom has been deployed."

California Oil Spill
Several experts recently told Newsweek that marshes and shore birds could face the biggest threats following the California oil spill. Above, this aerial picture taken on October 4, 2021 shows environmental response crews cleaning up oil that flowed near the Talbert marsh and Santa Ana River mouth, creating a sheen on the water after an oil spill in the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach, California. Patrick T. Fallon/Getty