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An oil spill off the California coast destroyed a wildlife habitat and caused dead birds and fish to wash up on Huntington Beach, officials say

By Alta Spells, Holly Yan and Amir Vera, CNN

A swath of the Southern California coast is covered with oil after 3,000 barrels’ worth gushed into the Pacific Ocean — devastating some of the local wildlife, officials said.

A pipeline breach occurred about 5 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday.

“We’ve started to find dead birds and fish washing up on the shore,” Foley said.

“The oil has infiltrated the entirety of the (Talbert) Wetlands. There’s significant impacts to wildlife there,” she said. “These are wetlands that we’ve been working with the Army Corps of Engineers, with the Land Trust, with all the community wildlife partners to make sure to create this beautiful, natural habitat for decades. And now in just a day, it’s completely destroyed.”

A total of 1,218 gallons of oily water mixture have been recovered from the spill, the United States Coast Guard said in a statement.

“This response is currently a 24/7 operation and response efforts are scheduled to continue until federal and state officials determine that the response to the crude oil spill is complete,” the USCG statement read.

It said that one oiled Ruddy duck has been collected and is receiving veterinary care and other reports of oiled wildlife are being investigated.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced on Twitter that it’s sending investigators to gather information and assess the source of the oil spill. CNN has reached out to the NTSB for further details.

The pipeline is owned by the Houston-based oil and gas company Amplify Energy, its president and CEO Martyn Willsher said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.

“We are fully committed to being out here until this incident is fully concluded,” Willsher said, adding the company is working with numerous local, state and federal agencies on recovery efforts.

“Our employees live and work in these communities, and we’re all deeply impacted and concerned about the impact on not just the environment, but the fish and wildlife as well,” Willsher said. “We will do everything in our power to ensure that this is recovered as quickly as possible, and we won’t be done until this is concluded.”

An oil sheen was first reported to the US Cost Guard shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday morning, the Coast Guard said in a press release.

“It’s probably been leaking longer than we know,” Foley told CNN Sunday.

Willsher said his company notified the Coast Guard Saturday morning when employees were conducting a line inspection and they noticed a sheen in the water.

The spill — equal to about 126,000 gallons of post-production crude — is a “potential ecological disaster,” Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said Saturday.

As of Sunday morning, “the leak has not been completely stopped,” the city of Huntington Beach said in a press release. It said preliminary patching has been completed to repair the oil spill site, and additional repair efforts will be attempted.

“Currently, the oil slick plume measures an estimated 5.8 nautical miles long, and runs from the Huntington Beach Pier down into Newport Beach,” the press release said.

A sand berm is being built to protect the Talbert Channel from the oil spill washing ashore in Huntington Beach.

“The oil has already infiltrated many of our wetlands in Huntington Beach in the Talbert area, and we want to do everything we can to prevent it from intruding into that area even further,” Foley said.

Willsher told reporters Sunday the facilities operating the pipeline were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Amplify has owned the pipeline for about nine years. There are about 17.5 miles between the pipeline and shore, Willsher said.

“It is about 4 ½ miles off shore where the potential source of the leak occurred. It is heavy crude oil that is pumped through that pipeline,” he said.

The Coast Guard has classified the situation as a major oil spill, Huntington Beach Marine Safety Chief Eric McCoy said.

Huntington Beach officials canceled the final day of the Pacific Airshow and are encouraging people to stay away from the Santa Ana River Trail, Talbert Park and Talbert Marsh areas and the beaches in the impacted areas to prevent contact with potentially toxic oiled areas.

Foley urged residents to avoid the area.

“Please don’t go down and try to help. We’re not taking volunteers yet,” she said. “If you do see oiled wildlife call 1-877-823-6926. That’s the best way to help.”

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CNN’s Claudia Dominguez and Lechelle Benken contributed to this report

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