Huntington Beach oil spill devastates already endangered species


Michael Baird

One of the species of birds being affected by the oil spill.

October 11th brought bittersweet news for beach-goers in Southern California. The popular Huntington Beach, nicknamed “Surf City,” was reopened to visitors, but this was after it suffered a devastating oil spill off of its shoreline. According to CNN, over 100,000 gallons of crude oil contaminated Pacific waters on October 2nd after the San Pedro Bay oil pipeline ruptured. 

The spill was devastating to those both on land and sea. Marine life struggled to swim through the contamination and fish floated to the surface. Migrating shorebirds such as the snowy plover, however, had one of the toughest times coping with the crisis.

Already near extinction, the snowy plover is just one of the many bird species that pass through California during the migratory season. Habitat loss due to land development led to the dangerously low plover levels that prompted their designation as “federally threatened” in 1993, as stated by Audubon. 

Recently, in 2017, scientists held their breaths as they observed the beginnings of a possible comeback in snowy plover populations. The first nest of plovers had appeared on Huntington Beach after their disappearance from the area decades prior. Their numbers steadily escalated, and hope swelled for a full restoration of the beach population– that is, until the oil spill.

Oil is severely damaging to birds for many reasons. In the article, “Oil spill threatens Southern California wildlife and closes down beaches while Coast Guard investigates source of leak,” The Washington Post explains how birds can be harmed when oil splashes on them because they will instinctively clean off the residue, thus fatally ingesting toxic chemicals. Additionally, any oil clinging to the birds can make flight and temperature regulation more difficult, both of which are detrimental to migrating species. 

25 oil-covered birds were collected by the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center for rehabilitation, with all of the snowy plovers in possession unable to be cleaned. The disastrous effects of the oil spill will have long-term consequences for their recovery.

This catastrophic blow to the welfare of the snowy plover, and more broadly, Pacific coastal life, highlights the dangers of increased fossil fuel consumption and human activities. It also underscores the massive toll taken on the environment, which can’t afford to suffer from any more of these spills. It could be years before the shore is revived, and we can only hope that the snowy plovers have a promising future in sight.