By Cecilia M. Riley, Executive Director
The Gulf of Mexico is an environmental and cultural treasure, and a major engine of the Texas economy. The 2010 BP Gulf oil spill highlighted the role Texas’ coastal resources play in the overall health of the Gulf and the need to restore these natural assets, weakened by human activities and natural disasters. For the past three years, GCBO, other coastal conservation organizations, and state and federal natural resource agencies have worked together to plan for reversing the damages caused by that massive spill. And we have made some progress. So, you can just imagine my disappointment when it was reported last weekend that there was a collision between a barge and a tanker in the Houston Ship Channel. That barge was loaded with 27 thousand barrels of Marine Fuel Oil and 168,000 gallons of the heavy fuel was dumped into the bay as a result of the collision. Based on our experience from the 2010 oil disaster, we feared the worst for the thousands of birds migrating up the coast from their South American wintering grounds.
While an investigation and clean-up activities continue in Galveston Bay, so too does the hard work of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. This week, these bird saviors have found 26 dead shorebirds, and collected 16 live but oiled shorebirds that are currently being cleaned and rehabilitated. So far, the impacted shorebird species included Piping Plovers, Laughing Gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, Lesser Scaups, Red Knots and Common Loons. With colder temperatures and rain predicted for the remainder of this week, wildlife impacts will continue to increase in the Galveston area. Wildlife observers and recovery teams have observed numerous oiled but un-captured oiled birds in the Bolivar Flats, East Beach and Pelican Island. With the oil spill moving south, wildlife recovery operations are planned to extend down Galveston Island and on the mid and lower coast, no doubt they will find more oiled birds along the oils path.
It is critical to protect and restore the habitats that are home to countless species of fish, birds and other wildlife that contribute to a healthy ecosystem and a thriving seafood industry and bring over 500,000 tourists to our state every year. Shipping and other industry users of our gulf beaches and waters should lead the way in Gulf protection by carefully managing their everyday operating practices with natural systems in mind. Strengthening Texas’ coastal environment will make it more resilient so it will continue to be a safe home for our communities and the backbone of our state’s economy.