The catastrophic oil spill across the Gaviota Coast on Tuesday 19th of May 2015 saw a devastating 21,000 gallons of crude oil leak from a ruptured underground pipe. The oil spill has devastated the flora and fauna for 9 miles, causing insurmountable damage to this incredibly bio-diverse coastline.
It is difficult to put an exact number on the amount of animals that have and will die as a result of the oil spill, because most of the damage is occurring underwater. The Gaviota coastline is host to a range of creatures, including pelicans, cormorants, grebes, dolphins, sea lions, elephant seals, bass, guitarfish, spiny lobsters, rock crabs, urchins, octopi, shrimp, mussels, sea hares, sponges, anemones, coral, and whole swaths of smaller sea life, the habitats of which are now irreparably damaged for years to come.
Estimates put the spill at approximately 21,000 gallons, but it is feared that up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil may have leaked into the ocean from the Plains All American Pipeline, covering nine miles of coastline, west of Refugio State Beach, with the viscous, carcinogenic liquid.
Volunteers have turned out in their droves to assist with the cleanup effort, although health officials are advising the public to avoid affected areas. “Breathing oil fumes can cause headache, nausea, vomiting… and respiratory problems,” said Santa Barbara County Public Health Department spokesperson Susan Klein-Rothschild.
Breathing the fumes from crude oil are known to cause chemical pneumonia, irritation of the nose, throat, and lungs, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, loss of coordination, fatigue, nausea, and labored breathing. Chronic exposure can result in irregular heartbeats, convulsions, and coma.
Local fisheries have been closed down for fear that their produce could be contaminated with carcinogenic and toxic chemicals from crude oil.
The Gaviota coast is one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems in the world, boasting a diverse and vibrant range of creatures native to the area.
The previously pristine Gaviota Coast, called “the Galapagos of North America,” is one of only five places on the planet where plants and animals of the North and the South meet.
Crude oil blackens the water, choking sea grass and other marine plants from much needed sunlight, and in turn preventing small marine animals from feeding.
Crude oil seeps into and under rocks, soaks into the sand, sits on top of the water, and below it. It’s toxic fumes are carried by the wind, meaning there is almost no safe-zone for plants and animals.
Even a small amount of oil can kill a bird. The oil globs their feathers together, which can prevent them from flying properly, restricting their ability to hunt. Their diet also consists mainly of fish, which are likely to contain toxins from the oil spill.
Oil has been found as far as 11 miles out from the shore.
Oil is killing plankton in their droves, essential to the ecosystem of the Gaviota coast. This can effect everything from tide-pool fliter feeders, to endangered blue whales, migrating through the Santa Barbara Channel.
Efforts are being made to transport kelp, eel grass and surf grass away from dangerous areas. Preserving the flora of the area is essential to ensuring the eventual restoration of the animals that live along the Gaviota coast, whose survival is dependent on flourishing greenery.
The long term effects of the Refugio oil spill will have a devastating effect on the wildlife of the area. Restoration projects will have to go on for years in order to try to recover some of the damage.
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