Some beaches along Southern California's coast are closed as cleanup crews attempt to clear Saturday's oil spill from the shorelines. The disaster has led to a state of emergency being declared in Orange County with experts warning it could take years for wildlife and ecosystems to recover from the damage.

California is undergoing a mass cleanup of its beaches—along the coastline between Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach—after a spill of an estimated 126,000 gallons of oil covered miles of the Pacific Ocean and its wildlife and vulnerable ecosystems with sticky crude oil. Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Orange County on Monday, saying "the state is moving to cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment."

Workers in protective suits clean oil in the Talbert Marsh wetlands
Environmental workers clean up the protected Talbert Marsh wetlands after Saturday's oil spill closes beaches in Orange County ©Mario Tama/Getty Images

Oil-covered seabirds, fish and other wildlife have washed up on Orange County's shores in recent days, according to images shared online from rescue groups. The first reports of the spill came on Saturday, with experts suggesting it may have been caused by the anchor of a ship hitting an underwater pipeline, though the investigation continues into the exact cause.

As the mass cleanup effort gets underway, with some wildlife receiving veterinary care, experts warn it could take years for wildlife and the environment to recover. "The ramifications will extend further than the visible oil and odor that our residents are dealing with at the moment. The impact to the environment is irreversible," Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said in a statement on Saturday.

"Some populations might recover fast. Some other populations take years and years," Andrea Bonisoli Alquati, a professor of biological sciences at Cal Poly Pomona, told NPR. "Sometimes the focus, of course, of the press and the public has already shifted away, but the consequences are still happening." 

Officials have closed Huntington and Laguna shorelines and waters to the public and Newport Beach has a soft closure. Newport Harbor and Dana Point Harbor are closed too. The spill has also seeped into the biologically diverse and incredibly delicate Talbert Marsh wetlands, a protected nature reserve.

The city of Huntington Beach said it has been "overwhelmed" with requests to help with the recovery efforts. Volunteers are not currently needed so instead people have been asked to donate to Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center through their website, as the non-profit continues to care for oiled wildlife. Governor Newsom said on Monday that "this incident serves as a reminder of the enormous cost fossil fuels have on our communities and the environment."

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