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Update on Galveston oil spill

Workers cleaning up oil near Galveston
Workers cleaning up oil near Galveston
Photo by Thomas Shea

It’s been a little over a month since an oil barge and another boat being towed by a tugboat, collided just outside of Galveston causing an oil spill that threatened sensitive wildlife areas. The March 22nd accident spilled an estimated 168,000 gallons of fuel oil in the area. While an accident like this is always bad, this was particularly poor timing because it happened during the time when a high number of birds were passing through the area with some beginning nesting.

Hundreds of birds were reported oiled, dead, or nearly dead, though numbers reported varied. Common oiled birds include terns, herons, and shorebirds such as a sanderling that was spotted soon after the spill. Oil had managed to reach areas such as Matagorda and Mustang Islands where several oiled birds have been observed and collected, some of which were dead or nearly dead. Tons of oiled material has been recovered on these islands as well. The oil company that owned the barge is paying for the cleanup. The Coast Guards says that the clean-up is wrapping up.

According to Audubon Magazine, the positive part of this story is that the oil didn't make it into the marshes and missed other sensitive areas, including the whooping crane breeding area. Other experts in the area expressed concerns about how the cleanup activity will impact will effect the crane’s migration.

Observers are asked to report any oiled birds, no matter how small the amount of oil is, to the Galveston County Office of Emergency Management at (888)384-2000.. Even a small amount of oil can be deadly to birds. Not only can they ingest the oil when they groom, it weakens the insulation of their feathers. This can cause them to be chilled or lose buoyancy and drown if they are water birds. Gulls and terns, birds that normally land on the water or those that forage along the shoreline are the most likely to become oiled.