Crews race to save wildlife as the Orange County oil spill kills birds and fish; how to help

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A major oil spill off the coast of Orange County this weekend closed the area’s beaches as crews worked to prevent environmental damage and save endangered wildlife.

With an estimated 126,000 gallons of crude oil flowing into the Pacific Ocean, teams fanned out at first light to search for oil-covered animals in need of assistance north of Bolsa Chica and towards Laguna Beach.

The oil found its way to Talbert Marsh, an ecological reserve that is home to about 90 species of birds, according to the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy

Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday the county had received reports of fish and birds washing up dead on shores.

“We ask people not to go to the beach and not to touch the animals… because it is poisonous,” she said.

Photos showed dead fish washed up on the sand in Huntington Beach.

Monday morning there were no reports from rescue services finding marine mammals affected by the spill, but marine experts warned the animals could have difficulty breathing or die after swimming through oil or inhaling toxic fumes.

According to Dr. Michael Ziccardi, director of UC Davis’ Oiled Wildlife Care Network, has so far taken four birds for treatment at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, including a brown pelican, a ruddy duck and a coot. The pelican had “chronic injuries” and had to be euthanized.

“It’s much better than we feared,” he said, adding that the team is “cautiously optimistic”.

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy says the full extent of the impact on wildlife is not yet known, but it is expected to be significant.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach and SeaWorld San Diego are also standing by to accommodate animals affected by the spill.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a fishing closure from Sunset Beach all the way to Dana Point. Fishing and shellfish harvesting is prohibited in the area of ​​the spill or where it is expected to spread.

How to help

Officials have stressed that the number one way to help is not to touch oil-covered animals and instead report sightings to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-823-6926.

“First of all, we need people who don’t try to catch contaminated animals,” Ziccardi said. “It is not safe for the animals. It is not safe for them because oil can be a toxic substance.”

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network says it is not currently looking for volunteers.

“Currently, we’re not taking general volunteers from the public,” Ziccardi said. “We have 1,600 people that we have trained. These people have been trained in specialized shelter and care techniques for more than a week or more.”

However, community members can donate to organizations that help with the rescues.

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy has a “Oil spill response fund” to raise money for organizations directly involved in relief efforts.

Supervisor Foley said residents can donate supplies that can be dropped off at the county office at 333 Santa Ana Blvd. in Santa Ana.

Supplies needed include: nitrile gloves, N95 masks, tyvek suits, feeding syringes, red rubber feeding tubes, and collapsible plastic or cardboard pet carriers.

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