A recent oil spill has caused extensive damage to the coast of Southern California. Amplify Energy Corporation, the oil company responsible for the spill, first noticed the problem on October 2nd. As of now, they estimate that anywhere from 30,000-126,000 gallons of oil have seeped into nearby waters.
The environmental toll
Although experts are unsure of the exact cause of the spill, many believe that a ship’s anchor got lodged into the underwater pipe. Regardless of what led to the disaster, its toll on the surrounding area has been devastating.
Each year, millions of birds migrate through California as they fly south. Many stop an area of wetlands that covers an area of more than 127 acres. Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, the non-profit that manages the wetlands, said that the spill severely affected the area. While they’re still assessing the extent of the damage, several endangered birds that migrate through are now at risk.
In addition to birds, environmentalists and volunteers are also scanning the coast for other animals that the spill has harmed. This includes animals from fish and dolphins to crabs and sharks.
While it’s easy to spot an animal coated in oil, some of the worse effects of oil spills are often long-term.
For example, oil spills can destroy entire communities of phytoplankton. As these form the basis of many marine food chains, their destruction can lead to ripple effects that harm organisms of all shapes and sizes.
The loss of phytoplankton can cause animals that depend on them for food to die out. This, in turn, forces larger animals like dolphins and sharks to relocate in search of food.
The emotional impact
Animals in the wild aren’t the only ones who suffer when these sorts of accidents occur. People—and not just surfers and beachgoers—do as well.
Solastalgia, or distress caused by environmental change or destruction, is a real phenomenon that’s becoming more and more common. While natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes can cause this feeling, oil spills and other human-created events can too. In extreme cases, solastalgia can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
As climate change continues to exacerbate natural disasters while increasing the number of human-created ones, psychologists fear that solastalgia will become more widespread.
A challenging year for California
There haven’t been many positive environmental stories to come out of California in the past several months. The Southern California oil spill is the latest of many examples of how human action has harmed the state.
From droughts and severe wildfires to destructive heat waves, America’s most populous state appears to be at the center of the fight against climate change. And, if scientific predictions hold true, it doesn’t seem like that will be changing anytime soon.
A problem that affects everyone
While California may be experiencing the more obvious effects of climate change and human-caused disasters, environmental degradation is a problem that will one day become apparent worldwide.
Events like the Southern California oil spill highlight the necessity to hold governments and businesses (especially oil companies) accountable for environmental destruction. In doing so, we can begin taking steps in the right direction.