'Travesty': Pristine California beaches face environmental disaster

Fish and birds are washing up on the sand, and surfers have been told to avoid the water, after 3000 of barrels worth of oil leaked into waters off California.

An estimated 573,000 litres of oil is threatening affluent Orange County beaches after an oil rig pipeline burst, with officials first noticing the slick on Saturday (local time).

California wildlife rescue group Pacific Marine Mammal Center has reached out on social media for supplies as they work to coordinate rescuers responding to the disaster.

A surfer off Huntington Beach, California, looking at oil in the water.
Surfers have been told to avoid the ocean after 573,000 litres was released into the water. Source: Reuters

Describing the Huntington Beach area, 65km south of Los Angeles, as “dangerous”, rescuers said trained responders are working to clean up the site.

Over 600 metres of floating barriers have been installed in seven locations to try and protect wildlife from the slick, with nearby Talbert Marsh of particular concern as it is home to approximately 90 species of birds.

Huntington Beach’s city government said protecting wildlife is their “highest priority”, but despite their efforts oil-soaked fish and birds are washing ashore.

The city’s mayor Kim Carr described the situation as an “environmental catastrophe”, challenging “responsible parties” to do “everything possible” to rectify the situation.

“Our wetlands are being degraded and portions of our coastline are now covered in oil,” Mayor Carr said.

A heron stands on a temporary barrier at Talbert Marsh.
Temporary barriers have been set up around Talbert Marsh to protect wildlife. Source: Getty

Beaches closed to surfers as oil slick spreads

As the 33 square kilometre slick spreads along beaches, popular with surfers and holiday makers, signs have been erected by officials advising anyone visiting the area to avoid contact with ocean water.

In Newport Beach, which neighbours Huntington Beach, local government has advised beachgoers not to touch impacted wildlife, but to call authorities instead.

“The City’s top priority is to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors during the cleanup effort,” Newport Beach's mayor Brad Avery said in a statement.

Newport Beach waters can been seen black with oil.
Locals reported a stench as oil began to flow towards Newport Beach (pictured). Source: Getty

Strong smell in air as locals urged to seek medical advice

Locals have taken to social media to share their dismay at the event, with many talking about the intensity of the pungent oil smell.

“The smell is strong and likely unhealthy,” wrote one person.

“This is a travesty.....and absolute disaster,” another respondent added.

Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley added that her throat was hurting and she could “feel the vapor in the air”.

"The impact to the environment is irreversible," she added in a statement.

OC Health Care Agency has urged anyone who has come into contact with the oil to seek medical attention.

Left - A road in California with a sign reading 'to oil spill'. Right - Close up of the oil spill.
The US Coast Guard is leading a multi-agency response to the disaster. Source: AAP

"Inhalation of toxic oil vapors or other aerosolized oil compound particles from wind-blown waves can cause these side effects," it said is a statement.

The health provider issued a list of symptoms residents could be experiencing, even without direct contact with the slick, including:

  • Skin, eye, nose or throat irritation

  • Headache or dizziness

  • Upset stomach or vomiting

  • Cough or shortness of breath

'Upsetting': Pipeline owner sends divers to site

While the cleanup continues, a unified response has been set up between the Beta Offshore, the Coast Guard and the California's Fish and Wildlife Office.

“That sheen is approaching our pristine California beaches which I know is very upsetting to the citizens here in Southern California,” Coast Guard Captain Rebecca Ore said.

The disaster is believed to have emanated from the Elly oil rig, operated by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation.

Two lifeguards roping off Huntington Beach using police tape.
Lifeguards have roped off Huntington Beach using police tape. Source: EPA / AP

Amplify's CEO Martyn Willsher said the company has sent divers to pipeline and they are working with the government to help in recovery efforts.

"Let me just say also, our employees live and work in these communities, and we are all deeply impacted and concerned about the impact not just on the environment, but the fish and wildlife as well,” he said.

“We will do everything in our power to ensure that this is recovered as quickly as possible.”

- With Reuters

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