One of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history destroyed popular beaches and killed wildlife while crews scrambled on Sunday before spilling crude into protected wetlands.
At least 477,000 liters of oil spilled into Orange County waters, according to a statement from the city of Huntington Beach.
“The spill has significantly affected Huntington Beach, with substantial ecological impacts occurring on the beach and on the Huntington Beach wetlands,” the statement said.
Oil sparkled a kilometer wide in the sea and washed ashore in sticky, black globules with dead birds and fish. Crews, led by the US Coast Guard, deployed skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to try to prevent further infiltration into the wetlands and the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
In the middle of the summer, the closure of the Santa Ana River Jetty, about 6.4 kilometers south of the Huntington Beach Pier, would have brought beach-goers in for volleyball, swimming and surfing.
Officials canceled the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show, which normally draws thousands of spectators to Huntington Beach, a city of about 199,000 residents about 48 kilometers south of downtown Los Angeles. The show featured flyovers by the US Navy Blue Angels and US Air Force Thunderbirds.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said on Twitter that the oil slick originated from a broken pipeline connected to an offshore oil platform called Ely, 8 kilometers off the coast.
Foley said Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery told him he encountered an oil spill while traveling back to the mainland from Santa Catalina Island. “He saw dolphins swimming through oil,” Foley tweeted.
“While the leak is not completely closed, preliminary patching to repair the oil spill site has been completed,” a Huntington Beach statement said early Sunday, adding that additional repairs are planned.
The spill comes three decades after a massive oil spill in the same part of the Orange County coast. On February 7, 1990, the oil tanker American Trader passed over its anchorage at Huntington Beach, spilling about 1.6 million liters of crude oil. Fish and about 3,400 birds were killed.
In 2015, a broken pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 541,313 liters of crude oil to Refugio State Beach.
At a news conference Saturday night, Orange County officials expressed concern about the environmental impacts of the spill and hoped that crews could stop the oil before it flows into the sensitive wetlands.
“We are working with our federal, state and county partners to help reduce the impact of a potential ecological disaster,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr.
According to Ben Smith, a biologist and environmental consultant for Orange, Huntington State Beach is home to many species of birds, including gulls, willets, long-billed Fletchers, elegant terns and reddish egrets, which are rare on the West Coast. County.
Smith headed to the beach on Sunday to observe wildlife ahead of a construction project at the mouth of the Santa Ana River that flows into the ocean at the border of Huntington State Beach and Newport Beach.
“There’s tar everywhere,” he said Los Angeles Times. “You’d think by now we’d know how to prevent this kind of incident, but I don’t think so.”