While oiled seabirds and marine mammals understandably garner the most attention and public sympathy, the research of students and faculty at California State University Channel Islands showed a high mortality rate among adults and developing young at the very base of our sandy beach ecosystems: sand crabs.
These thumb-sized crustaceans dwell in the sand where the tides crash into the coast. They are directly in the path of this floating oil. The spilled oil kills adult crabs when it is thick and developing eggs when it is diluted.
Both crabs and spending recovered after some months, but this oil taint from spills does not represent isolated events in a larger story of ecological disaster. It comes on the heels of decades of coastal development pressures, changing seas and the unfolding pandemic.
The Huntington Beach oil spill is an assault on top of many other assaults on our environment. We can no longer meet each one of these environmental assaults as individual events — we have to look at the stress on the entire system.
Instead of asking how might this particular spill damage this wetland or that harbor, we now must ask how much more additional stress can this coast and these waters, and all the creatures in them, take?
Too often our laws and policies still see these challenges in isolation.
And Covid-19 will not be seen as relevant. Yet a few weeks or months without customers thanks to this spill may doom those pandemic-stressed restaurants and tackle shops and other small businesses to close for good.
Oil spills, the pandemic, wildfire smoke. All are thought about and dealt with separately, but we have to look at them as a relentless series of events that are straining the environment as a connected whole.
All of this points to the need for more holistic thinking about our coupled human-natural systems in these strange and difficult times. We need to be resolved and honest, and to see beyond this spill and that crisis to the wider, weirded world we all have made. We have spun these awful webs, and we can untangle them.