Animals dying as oil spill reaches beaches, sensitive wildlife habitat

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HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — A major oil spill has reached Orange County beaches and sensitive wildlife areas, with reports of fish and birds being found dead and experts anticipating “many, many” more will be killed.

The oil was leaking from a broken pipeline on a platform called “Elly” near Long Beach, run by the Beta Operating Company, a subsidiary of the Amplify Energy corporation.

At least 126,000 gallons of oil has spilled into the water, officials said Sunday, though authorities warned that number will increase: The leak had still not been stopped as of early afternoon, and government agencies had not received a new estimate.

In an interview with FOX 5 sister station KTLA, Heal the Bay CEO Dr. Shelley Luce said the oil is “highly toxic.”

“We already have reports of dolphins being seen swimming through the oil slick. They can’t get away from it quickly. And now it has reached land,” Luce said. “This is a toxic spill. And many, many animals are going to die. And many more than we can count, because they will occur at sea.”

Luce pointed out that in addition to larger animals, the oil can impact life at the micro level, including plankton, which form the lowest rung on a food chain that leads all the way to humans.

Huntington State Beach is home to a number of species of birds, including gulls, willet, long-billed fletcher, elegant teens and reddish egret, which are a rarity on the West Coast, according to Ben Smith, a biologist and environmental consultant for Orange County. Of particular concern: sensitive habitats such as the Talbert Marsh and Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

Foley told KTLA she was in touch with workers from the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department who told her they had found dead fish and birds by early morning. Residents were asked not to try to help wildlife that they encounter suffering from consequences of the leak, as it could be a hazard to their health. Instead, they were asked to call California wildlife officials at 877-823-6926.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the beaches of the community nicknamed “Surf City” could remain closed for weeks or even months. The oil created a miles-wide sheen in the ocean and washed ashore in sticky, black globules.

“In a year that has been filled with incredibly challenging issues this oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations that our community has dealt with in decades,” Carr said. “We are doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.”

The spill led to the cancellation of the Pacific Airshow and widespread beach closures from Huntington Beach south to Newport Beach.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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