Consequences of Texas City “Y” Oil Spill Continue to Surface

Shoreline oiled from Texas City “Y” oil spill. Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The March 22 oil spill that occurred in the Houston Ship Channel moved out into the Gulf and traveled south over the last several days.

After hitting the shores of Matagorda Island late last week, oil has now been reported on the mid-coast of Texas on Mustang Island and on Padre Island National Seashore.

Oil Spill Update from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department — 1 p.m. March 31, 2014:

Most of the oil has been onshore at Matagorda Island since last Thursday, and contractor crews are at work removing it from the beach and other areas.

All of these barrier islands are critical in sustaining the health of the overall Gulf ecosystem and economy. These islands are home to threatened and endangered migratory bird species and other wildlife like sea turtles, and also serve as popular tourist attractions, drawing hunters, anglers, and wildlife watchers alike to the Texas coast. Unfortunately, the timing of this spill could not have been worse—it occurred during the spring migration season for numerous birds that rely on the Texas coast as stopping grounds for food, rest, and nesting while on their long journey.

Wildlife Suffering

TPWD Wildlife Biologist collecting a Royal Tern on the east beach in Galveston. Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
TPWD Wildlife Biologist collecting a Royal Tern on the east beach in Galveston. Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In the Houston Audubon Society’s March 23 press release on the spill, Dr. Richard Gibbons, Conservation Director for Houston Audubon and leader of the Texas Shorebird Survey noted:

“It’s definitely devastating to see the birds you work so hard to protect day to day suffer. Once the oil gets on them, they go into clean up mode which means not only are they expending precious energy stores on that process, but they are also ingesting it which often means death.”

NOAA has also reported discovering dead dolphins, sea turtles, and birds:

As of Monday, March 31, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service teams report 21 dolphins and 4 turtles stranded. Most of these are in the Galveston area but reports from Matagorda Island are increasing. All of the dolphins were dead, two turtles were captured alive and are being rehabilitated. Most of the animals were not visibly oiled but necropsies are still underway. Approximately 150 dead birds have been reported in the Galveston area and 30 in the Matagorda area.

And the broader impacts from this oil spill will be unknown for some time—possibly a year or even longer from now. Greg Stunz, the director of the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at the Texas A&M University-affiliated Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, told Al Jazeera America:

“Scientifically, we’re very concerned. These are really key habitats. Small crustaceans just hatched weeks or days ago. Those life phases are particularly susceptible to pollution … and you won’t see the effects on them until a year later.”

This recent oil spill highlights the fact that funds anticipated to result from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill provide an historic opportunity to significantly invest in the health of the Gulf of Mexico and its coast – especially through implementation of the RESTORE Act. We need our decision-makers to invest in the Gulf so that this resilient ecosystem can continue to withstand disasters such as this one.

Take ActionMake sure the Gulf is restored for dolphins.