Oceana Analysis Finds Sensitive Species and Habitats Most At-Risk from California Oil Spill - Oceana USA

Oceana Analysis Finds Sensitive Species and Habitats Most At-Risk from California Oil Spill

Press Release Date: October 7, 2021



Dustin Cranor, APR | email: dcranor@oceana.org | tel: 954.348.1314

Oceana released a new analysis today identifying some of the most endangered and vulnerable species at-risk from the devastating oil spill taking place off the coast of Huntington Beach, Calif. As part of its assessment, Oceana mapped the locations of ecologically diverse and economically valuable ocean resources most susceptible to oil contamination, which it says is critical to understanding potential implications and informing resource damage assessments.

“Toxic oil spills don’t discriminate in polluting ocean ecosystems. From the seafloor to the ocean’s surface, the waters off Southern California contain some of the most endangered species and fragile habitats on the West Coast,” said Geoff Shester, California campaign director and senior scientist at Oceana. “While the extent of the damage to oiled habitats and wildlife, and the economic implications of closed fisheries are still unfolding, we hope that this analysis will help inform response efforts and that it will be considered when ensuring the responsible party is held fully liable for damages that could have been prevented. Wildlife and coastal economies cannot continue to be jeopardized by dangerous offshore drilling. It’s past time to permanently protect our coast from offshore drilling.”

Oceana’s analysis finds the following at-risk resources near the oil spill area:

  • Commercial Fisheries: In 2020, the value of commercial fishing landings in the Los Angeles and San Diego fishing ports totaled $27.2 million. The full value of commercial fishery operations to coastal economies when factoring in employment, processing, and seafood products is several times greater. The most important commercial fisheries in the region include market squid, tunas, swordfish, spiny lobster, spot prawn, and red sea urchin.
  • Recreational Fisheries: Estimates of the economic contribution of saltwater recreational fishing in Southern California are on the order of $1 billion to $2 billion per year.
  • Cold-Water Coral Gardens: Deep-water corals are not only spectacularly colorful but also provide key nursery grounds for recreational and commercial fish species. When oil sinks to the seafloor, it can smother and kill corals. There are at least 15 different types of coral off the coast of Southern California that could be impacted.
  • Blue Whale Feeding Areas: Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, fewer than 1,500 blue whales remain in the Endangered Eastern North Pacific population. This population uses the waters off Southern California as a primary feeding ground. Endangered blue whales travel hundreds of miles from Costa Rica to this area through November to feed on krill — tiny shrimp-like animals. Oil spills can cause massive die-offs of krill, threatening the main food source for blue whales and exposing the whales to toxic chemicals.
  • Gray Whale Migration Route: Gray whales will soon traverse these waters during their annual southern migration to their nurseries off Baja, Calif., with an expected arrival off Southern California in December. From 2019-2021, approximately 500 gray whales became stranded throughout their migration route from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean as the direct result of climate change and this oil spill may exacerbate these impacts.
  • Rocky Reefs and Kelp Forests: These habitats are federally designated “habitat areas of particular concern” because of their sensitivity, rarity, and ecological importance for a diversity of Southern California fish and invertebrates. This oil spill could smother the kelp forests, preventing photosynthesis, thus leading to die-offs of this critical habitat.
  • Important Bird Area: The National Audubon Society designated these waters as an important bird area for elegant terns, a species considered to be vulnerable because its nesting is restricted to very few sites. This spill could wipe out one of their only remaining nesting sites left in the world and impact their adjacent feeding areas.
  • Coastal Wetlands: This area is the most extensive network of remaining coastal wetlands in Southern California, globally important for biodiversity as well as many seabird species like brown pelicans, black skimmers, least terns, and elegant terns. Once inundated with oil, it is impossible to fully remove oil from these wetlands, which are critical stops along the Pacific Flyway for dozens of species of migratory birds.
  • Marine Reserves and Conservation Areas: The spill could decimate some of the most pristine habitats off the coast that were protected through an extensive public process over the last decade as state marine reserves and conservation areas: The Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve as well as six state marine conservation areas — Bolsa Bay, Bolsa Chica Basin, Upper Newport Bay, Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach, and Dana Point — protect unique marshes and wetlands as well as kelp forests, rocky reefs, and sensitive intertidal areas.

Oceana is calling on Congress to permanently protect the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf Coast of Florida from offshore drilling as part of the Build Back Better Act. A recent Oceana  analysis  found that ending new leasing off the coast of California would safeguard California’s clean coast economy, which collectively supports around 654,000 jobs and over $50 billion in GDP. Nationwide, the U.S. clean coast economy supports around 3.3 million American jobs and $250 billion in GDP.

Oceana’s analysis also found that ending new leasing for offshore oil and gas in the United States could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions as well as more than $720 billion in damages to people, property, and the environment nationally.

“We need the federal government to stop selling off our oceans for offshore drilling and Congress can make sure that happen in the Build Back Better Act, which is currently being negotiated,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana. “We know that oil is toxic. We know we shouldn’t eat it, breathe it, or swim in it. But for marine wildlife, that’s not an option when oil spills occur. This disaster is in part due to decisions made more than 30 years ago. It’s time to permanently protect our oceans from any more offshore oil and gas leasing.”

As of today, opposition and concern over offshore drilling activities includes:

  • Every East and West Coast governor, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, California, Oregon, and Washington
  • More than 390 local municipalities
  • Over 2,300 local, state, and federal bipartisan officials
  • East and West Coast alliances representing over 56,000 businesses
  • Pacific, New England, South Atlantic, and Mid-Atlantic fishery management councils
  • More than 120  scientists
  • More than 80 former military leaders
  • Commercial and recreational fishing interests such as Southeastern Fisheries Association, Snook and Gamefish Foundation, Fisheries Survival Fund, Billfish Foundation, and International Game Fish Association
  • California Coastal Commission, California Fish and Game Commission, and California State Lands Commission
  • Department of Defense, NASA, U.S. Air Force, and Florida Defense Support Task Force

For more information about Oceana’s efforts to stop the expansion of offshore drilling, please click here.