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Workers in protective suits clean oil in an inlet leading to the Wetlands Talbert Marsh after an oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.
Copyright  Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Mass clean-up saves California surf spot from catastrophic oil spill

By Scott Brownlee

On Monday, the iconic beaches of the southern California coast have reopened following a devastating oil spill that stained the shoreline earlier this month.

On 2 October, officials on Huntington Beach - dubbed ‘Surf City USA’ - closed the typically crowded beach after oil from an underwater pipeline in Orange County began washing ashore.

Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A beachgoer rests in front of a warning sign after an oil spill on Huntington Beach, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Floating barriers stop further incursion into the Wetlands Talbert Marsh after an oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Staff at the California Department Fish & Wildlife examines a contaminated Sanderling from the oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif., Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Paul Bersebach/ 2021, Orange County Register/SCNG
Workers with Patriot Environmental Services pick up oil-contaminated sand and plants south of the pier in Huntington Beach, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.Paul Bersebach/ 2021, Orange County Register/SCNG

It is believed that the incident is the result of a ship anchor dragging and damaging a pipeline belonging to Amplify Energy, which then leaked between 95,000 and 500,000 litres of crude oil into the ocean.

Advocates say they're concerned about the long-term impacts of the spill.

Despite the quick response, some oil was able to make its way into the local wetlands before crews could work to keep oil out of ecologically sensitive areas with sand berms and floating booms.

Built-up terraces of sand called sand berms are used to cut off waterways to prevent the oil slick from entering protected areas while floating booms skim the water's surface to collect crude oil that has collected in large patches.

The environmental impact on sensitive wetland habitats has been less severe than initially feared, but advocates say they're concerned about the long-term impacts of the spill.

Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A surfer leaves the water as workers in protective suits continue to clean the contaminated beach in Huntington Beach, Calif., Monday, Oct. 11, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
An aerial photo shows sand berm built to protect wetlands at Huntington Beach, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
It is believed that the incident is the result of a ship anchor dragging and damaging a pipeline.
Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Dead marine life washed up after oil spill in Newport Beach, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A woman plays beach volleyball as workers in protective suits clean the contaminated beach after oil spill in Newport Beach, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Over the past week, large teams of workers have been cleaning up beaches in what has turned out to be one of the worst oil spills in recent California history.

After water quality tests revealed no detectable levels of oil-associated toxins in the ocean, officials decided to reopen the shoreline in Huntington Beach and nearby Newport Beach.

Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A pelican takes off from the oil floats in the water surface in the Wetlands Talbert Marsh after an oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Amy Taxin/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Mike Ali, the owner of Zack's shop near the Huntington Beach pier, waits for customers in Huntington Beach, Calif., Sunday. Oct. 10, 2021.Amy Taxin/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Stained sand and ocean barriers on the beach following oil spill in Newport Beach, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Despite the damage to local wildlife and ecology, the clean-up effort has been considered a success and this Monday, Huntington Beach’s reopening has come earlier than expected.

The swift recovery and reopening of beaches is welcomed by local shop owners, who have taken an economic hit since the spill and are hoping that business will bounce back quickly.