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Oil spill near Galveston will have an impact on migrating and breeding birds

Imagine you’re walking along the beach along the Silver Strand or near Coronado and you see two ships offshore in the distance. One is an oil barge and other is cargo ship. The two ships collide and the oil barge begins leaking oil. After a couple of days, you begin noticing dead seabirds winding up on shore and oil making its way to the Tijuana Estuary or South Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Thousands of birds are resting and feeding there while on their way north. Other birds are just beginning to nest around the mudflats and trees in the area. The oil is seeping their way and they are in danger.

White ibis is a bird that breeds around Galveston Bay.
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

That scenario is currently happening near Galveston, Texas after an oil barge, carrying over 900,000 gallons of heavy tar oil, collided with another ship about 12 miles off the coast. While salvage vessels have retrieved most of the oil from the sinking barge, a large percentage of it, as much as 168,000 gallons may have spilled in the area. A couple dozen vessels are already on the scene working to contain the spill. The U.S. Coast Guard in the area says that choppy waters have made it difficult to contain the spill.

Already, the Houston Audubon Society is reporting at least 50 oiled seabirds around the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge and suspect that more will be found in the near future. Other reports of oiled sea birds come from the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. Seabirds such as gulls and gannets will be the first ones affected because they often land on water to rest. Officials in the area are downplaying the affect that the oil spill is having on wildlife saying that they’ve only had “scattered reports” of oiled wildlife.

The end of March is a critical time for birds and other animals in the area. Many birds are making their way north from South America to breed in the arctic. Many of these birds are endangered, some critically. This is an important stopover for curlews and whimbrel and an important breeding area for piping plovers and herons. Some of the last Eskimo curlews were seen and photographed in the area.