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Published on Feb 23, 2022 by Connor Wesson

Orange County, a pristine coastal region just a century ago, has become an urban epicenter brimming with environmental issues.

Beach Closure sign following the October 3 Huntington Beach oil spill.

Current environmental issues facing Orange County:

  • Sewage Spills

  • Oil Spills

  • Fishing Pollution

With 42 miles of sandy coastline, Orange County provides the quintessential Southern California experience for its residents and visitors. Home to over three million people, Orange County is a well populated region often impacted by the same environmental issues seen in big cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Human caused damages to the environment threaten the longevity of ecosystems found in these populated areas. On October 3, 2021, a cargo vessel accidentally dropped its anchor on an oil pipeline in Huntington Beach, California. As a result, 140,000 gallons of crude oil were released off the Huntington and Newport coastlines.

A bird covered in oil faces an uncertain future.

In the event of an oil spill, seabirds and fish that swim nearest to shore are generally the first casualties. This was certainly the case in the Huntington Beach spill, as sea bird species such as the sanderling and brown pelican were found dead or injured due to the harmful substance.

The oil is incredibly toxic for the birds to ingest, and can cause major mobility restraints when it gets on their feathers. Thankfully, local conservationists and veterinarians made efforts to save animal lives following the disaster.

The Talbot Marsh, considered a coastal habitat gem in Orange County was heavily impacted by the Huntington Beach oil spill, reversing years of local conservation efforts to keep the marshlands unpolluted.

It is hard to evaluate how extensive damage to wildlife and ecosystems will be following events like an oil spill. Statistics can only solve so many questions, and leave many unanswered.

In such a heavily populated region like Orange County, not too many months may pass before a new ecological danger presents itself. This month, a restaurant in the Newport Harbor experienced a pipe burst which lead to 50,000 gallons of raw sewage being released into the waterway.

Sewage buildup impacting the ocean.

The negative impacts on the harbor and local wildlife are still being evaluated. Beaches and waterways connected to Newport Harbor are closed for swimming and other recreational activities until further notice, the Orange County Health Care Agency said.

Not all environmental issues are as instantaneous as an oil or sewage spill. In fact, plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing ocean health and marine ecosystems.

Across the state of California and around the world, discarded fishing lines and equipment wreak havoc on marine ecosystems. Efforts in Orange County are taken up by locals to help clean coastlines and help preserve marine habitats.

Piles of fishing nets sit atop a dock.

I hope to continue sharing my research on the environmental issues facing Orange County. Other issues unrelated to pollution are also at play in this large urban epicenter, such as the fragmented habitats of local species like the coyote and red-tailed hawk.

Another interesting topic relates to newer technologies providing projections into the future of Orange County's coastline, and how it would be impacted by natural disasters like storm surges and tsunamis.

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