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All Coastal Communities Share the Same Ocean - What We Can Learn From Tonga, Rincon, and Peru

Written by Sabaitide

On January 15th, a volcano eruption from the island country of Tonga sent a tsunami warning to coastal communities all around the Pacific Ocean, including ours. The Independent reported that, “Residents of Santa Barbara — as well as the entire West Coast of the United States all the way up to Alaska — were advised to stay away from the shore and remain on higher ground in the wake of a tsunami advisory triggered by the eruption of an underwater volcano early Saturday morning off the coast of the Pacific island of Tonga” (Santa Barbara Independent).

Noozhawk added that, “No problems were reported in Santa Barbara County beyond a slight delay for the Rincon Classic surfing competition” (Noozhawk). Rincon is a sweet local spot which sits right on the edge of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. 2022 was set to be the 40th year of the popular surf competition, but with tsunami warning that delayed the start of the first heat, the Rincon Classic later began, “With an expectation of more than head-height waves” (Santa Barbara Independent).

“Everything was on schedule with the first heat of the day checked in and in the water when a phone call came in at 6:45, five minutes before the event was to start. ‘Did you hear about the Tsunami warning?’ The voice on the line echoed. What?!! Contestants and spectators were ushered to the safety of high land and an hour and ten minute hold was put into place for safety purposes.

Then the event was off and running for an hour before the rain began to fall and a power outage ensued. But then everything started falling into place. The wind turned the right direction by 10:30 am and the rain stopped, a healthy crowd arrived on the beach and the scene was filled with stoke. The rest of the weekend unfolded with a fairy tale ending as the wind disappeared and the background swell grew and provided picturesque canvases for everyone to enjoy” (Rincon Classic).

The turnout of the situation was the best case scenario and the highlights of the Rincon Classic were very impressive, but the same waves caused by the eruption in Tonga had dire effects in other coastal communities. According to the National Weather Service, “The tsunami waves peaked at 1.9 feet at about 10 a.m., and 2.3 feet at 3:20 p.m., on Saturday” (Santa Barbara Independent). While we made the best of the conditions to move forward with the Rincon Classic, the same waves had damaging effects in other coastal communities around the world.

If you take a good look at the bigger picture, or at least check Google Maps, all coastal communities seem to share the same ocean. The tsunami waves from Tonga reached the coastal communities across the ocean, and even the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans join together below the continents. A large amount of the world’s communities are located on the coast, and all of them share the same ocean and the same potential risks of facing a tsunami, or an oil spill. 

In Southern America, the coastal community in Peru is facing an environmental emergency due to an oil spill that occurred from the same waves. The Associated Press reported that, “Unusually high waves attributed to the eruption of an undersea volcano in Tonga caused an oil spill on the Peruvian coast,” (Associated Press). Although the situation was under control, by January 20th, the Press added that, “Peru declared an environmental emergency on Thursday after announcing that 21 beaches on the Pacific coast were contaminated by an oil spill at a refinery run by Spain-based Repsol,” (Associated Press). 

An oil spill should be every coastal community’s worst nightmare. We wouldn’t be upset about this unless it happened here. Huntington Beach faced this same nightmare only last year, and I hope that the media will pay the same attention to the environmental concerns in Southern America as well as the ones in Southern California because I really hope that no other coastal community will ever experience an oil spill like what the community in Peru is going through right now. Sure, we can acknowledge how sweet the Rincon Classic was this year, but please don’t completely ignore or scroll over the oil spill in Peru.

A week before the competition, I actually took my dinner to Rincon Beach and observed a big ship sail across the horizon and park up the coast in Carpinteria to load or unload at the oil pier. If the tsunami warning came a week earlier and those waves splashed against that ship, perhaps we wouldn’t be so calm about the painful fact that the oil spill in Peru could’ve very well happened here. I almost can’t believe that our oil pier is located one beach up the coast from our favorite local surf spot, so we're not in the clear just yet.