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Birds oiled and threatened along Texas coast as cleanup continues

Oil floated in the water at the Port of Houston, Texas on Mar. 25. The spill has still not been contained as of Apr. 5, after a collision between two ships Mar. 22.
Oil floated in the water at the Port of Houston, Texas on Mar. 25. The spill has still not been contained as of Apr. 5, after a collision between two ships Mar. 22.
Thomas Shea, Getty Images, Mar. 25, 2014

The U.S. Coast Guard, along with the Texas City "Y" Response Command, which includes the State of Texas and other entities, issued its 12th update earlier today concerning the ongoing cleanup around Padre Island. On Mar. 22, a barge operated by Kirby Inland Marine collided with a truck in the Houston Ship Channel, stranding ships for days and unleashing hundreds of gallons of crude.

As of sunset Friday, response workers have removed a total of 200,775 pounds of oiled sand and oiled debris from the shorelines of Mustang, North Padre and South Matagorda islands. These figures include 102,700 pounds of oiled material from Mustang Island, 93,550 pounds from South Matagorda and 4,525 pounds from shoreline around Bob Hall pier.

Approximately 470 response workers remain active on the coastal shorelines, the Response says, supported by another 78 persons staffing the Incident Command Post in Port O’Connor.

Matagorda Island is a unit of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of the only naturally wild flock of whooping cranes. According to a press release issued by Matagorda Response JIC TexasCityYResponse today, this bird population was reduced to just 50 in 1941, but the numbers have swollen about four percent every year since recovery efforts began and is currently estimated to be 300 birds.

The cranes migrate 2,500 miles every winter from Wood-Buffalo National Park in Canada to feed in the Aransas' refuge's freshwater and brackish marshes, the JIC says.

Approximately 30 percent of the population has begun migration, and precautions are being taken to ensure the remaining birds on Matagorda Island are not disturbed by clean-up, according to today's press release.

However, according to some reports the spill has already oiled and/or killed at least dozens of other birds already, and containing the oil continues even as ships are now allowed through the Houston Ship Channel.

Work along South Matagorda Island continues using a combination of light mechanical equipment and manual tools which include shovels, rakes and buckets.

The Unified Command continues to work with the Texas Department of Health Services to distribute informational bulletins in both Spanish and English, which detail state policy on the algae-related closures of oyster beds along the Texas coast, the Guard says.

More information on the spill response continues to be available through the Matagorda Bay joint information center here.

Bold marks and hyperlinks are those of the examiner's.