Divers see no oil lingering on OC reefs, rocks and marine life as search continues – Orange County Register

The divers didn’t know what to expect as they plunged below the surface of the ocean.

For weeks, gooey black tar washed up for miles along the Orange County shoreline, dotting the waterline and the sand. Would they find the same grime splattered on the delicate reefs and rocky habitats just offshore?

Nancy Caruso, who for decades explored and helped restore Orange County’s coastline, knows what “normal” is below the ocean’s surface, what the intertidal zone is supposed to look like every day, and how fish and marine life act and react. She was therefore eager to see if there had been any impacts to the underwater landscape following the oil spill off Huntington Beach earlier this month.

Last week, Caruso led a pair of divers who sank to survey the sea, an effort they will repeat this Saturday. They will share their findings with the official Natural Resource Damage Assessment Response Team documenting the impacts of the oil spill.

“I was dying to go out there to see what our reefs look like, what our abalones and kelp look like,” said Caruso, founder of the nonprofit Get Inspired, which runs several projects. restoration work off the coast of the region, including the replanting of kelp and the reintroduction of abalone populations.

The other divers, Julianne Steers and Wayne Philips, searched the network of six reefs and tidal pools from Corona del Mar to Newport Beach to Emerald Bay to Laguna Beach which are marine protected areas.

  • A group of scuba divers with the nonprofit Get Inspired have surveyed marine protected areas along the Orange County coastline for tar on reefs and rocks and will continue the effort this Saturday, October 30. 2021. In this photo, diver Wayne Philips surveys the reef. (Photo courtesy of Julianne Steers/Beach Ecology Coalition)

  • A group of scuba divers with the nonprofit Get Inspired have surveyed marine protected areas along the Orange County coast for tar on reefs and rocks and will continue the effort this Saturday October 30, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Julianne Steers/Beach Ecology Coalition)

  • A group of scuba divers with the nonprofit Get Inspired have been probing marine protected areas along the Orange County coastline for tar on reefs and rocks and will continue the effort this Saturday. October 30, 2021. Sea creatures like the spiny lobster seen here responded ‘normally’, although fisheries still cannot fish offshore. (Photo courtesy of Julianne Steers/Beach Ecology Coalition)

  • A group of scuba divers with the nonprofit Get Inspired have surveyed marine protected areas along the Orange County coast for tar on reefs and rocks and will continue the effort this Saturday, 30 October 2021. This photo shows a green abalone in a reef that showed no signs of oil. (Photo courtesy of Julianne Steers/Beach Ecology Coalition)

On Saturday, October 30, divers will continue the survey from Crescent Bay to Salt Creek to Dana Point.

“The volunteers I took with me have been diving the coast for at least 20 years, one of them for 30,” said Caruso, who was the boat’s captain on the excursion. “We know what normalcy looks like. We went out looking for abnormals.

The results of their first underwater survey? No tar was spotted on the reefs, rocks or shells, and the sea creatures were acting “normal”.

Sea anemones and scallops closed to the touch, a natural response. Fish meandered through the kelp and everything, as far as the eye could see, was tar free. The abalone had strong “feet” and was still clinging to the reefs, said Steers, a marine biologist and founding board member of the Beach Ecology Coalition.

“There was no slowness in their behavior,” Caruso said of the sea creatures. “For this time of year, everything seems perfect.”

She called the results a “pleasant surprise.”

“I’m satisfied and happy to know that so far everything seems normal on a macro scale,” she said.

“What we can’t see are the micro-effects,” such as the potential impact on fish eggs floating on the surface of the ocean or the growth of kelp forests, which may not be known for years to come, she said.

At this time, there is no suspected oil submerged offshore, California Fish and Wildlife spokesman Eric Laughlin said in an email.

“Our shoreline assessment teams conducted cleanup efforts at various tides, and tarballs were removed from both sandy and rocky shorelines,” he said.

Tests are still ongoing to see if the fish show signs of toxins. Erin Curtis, deputy secretary of CalEPA, said the sampling results won’t be ready for a few weeks. In the meantime, fishing remains closed.

“Once all of the onshore and offshore sampling results are available, (the state’s Office of Environmental Health Risk Assessment) will make a reopening recommendation,” she said in an email.

Caruso said if divers or beachgoers on the sand see tar, report it to SoCalSpillResponse.com/tarballs.

“Everyone’s eyes matter,” she said. “The more eyes, the better.”

A group of scuba divers with the nonprofit Get Inspired surveyed marine protected areas along the Orange County coastline for tar on reefs and rocks last week and will continue the effort this Saturday October 30, 2021. Underwater kelp forests were clear of tar. (Photo courtesy of Julianne Steers/Beach Ecology Coalition)

Steers said the lack of tar spotted offshore by divers offers “some relief”, but “more surveys need to be done to constantly monitor and stay in touch with what’s on the reef and shore.” and maintain the environment we have worked on. so difficult to restore.

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