A major oil spill in Texas occurred when ship hit a barge filled with millions of gallons of oil sitting in the bay of Galveston, Texas, on Saturday afternoon, spilling 168,000 gallons of thick, sticky oil into the Port of Houston.
As clean up crews worked, going into their third day after the spill, wildlife rescuers were also in the area to determine the impact on the birds and marine life.
According to authorities leading the joint effort to contain the spill, there have been 18 birds captured, 10 deceased, and eight “oiled” but not captured. There have also been sightings of oiled birds that have yet to be confirmed.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TWPD) personnel said they are continuing to look for affected wildlife in Bolivar Flats, which is considered a significant refuge for birds.
As of Sunday, three birds were taken to a private wildlife rehabilitation service field station for rehabilitation and three birds were found dead. More oiled birds are expected to be found.
“Galveston Bay is one of America’s greatest estuaries and an important home to Texas seafood providers and recreational fishermen, as well as the entry point to the Port of Houston. While the area has long dealt with many pollution concerns, this spill is significant,” said scientist Doug Rader of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.
“In the early stages of this spill much remains unknown, but for shrimp, blue crab, menhaden and other marine life, which rely on the bay as an essential nursery, further investigation and long-term monitoring within the footprint of this spill is necessary.”
The timing is especially bad for a spill of this magnitude as many species such as brown shrimp, have already spawned offshore and in March is when the young ride the tides back into shore to settle in sea grass, beds and marshes, which act as nurseries, and now the water is contaminated with oil. The young are especially vulnerable from now until about May or June.
Also in danger are baby fish that include menhaden, a vital food for larger fish and other animals.
The dolphins that are common to Galveston Bay eat these fish and are then negatively impacted. These polluted waters not only have an effect on food chains in the short term, but longer-term health issues affect animals.
Two days after the spill, teams of biologists checked eastern Galveston Island, Pelican Island and the Bolivar peninsula in search of other wildlife affected.
According to TPWD personnel, Bolivar Flats is currently a potential danger zone since it is a significant refuge for birds. Expectations are that oiled birds will fly there and with the decreasing temperatures leaving their natural thermostats out of whack – more deaths could occur. High tides could further harm wildlife as their habitats become inundated.
Any oil spill, but especially one of this size, will require long-term monitoring to understand the impacts to the ecosystem and wildlife.
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