Experts Fear Impacts of Oil Cleanup on Texas Gulf Coast

Experts Fear Impacts of Oil Cleanup on Texas Gulf Coast|
April 11, 2014 | 9:45 AM
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Oil cleanup itself could disturb the ecosystem along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nowhere is threat more apparent than at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Workers scraping oil-drenched sand from the beaches of Matagorda Island.

MATAGORDA ISLAND, TX — Recovery efforts continue weeks after a barge accident in the Houston Ship Channel dumped tens of thousands of barrels of oil into Galveston Bay. That oil kills wildlife and damages the environment. But some are worried the cleanup itself could also disturb the ecosystem along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nowhere is that threat more apparent than in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Every morning this week, hundreds of workers have gone out to Matagorda Island, a part of that refuge, to try to remove the oil. On a recent tour organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the response team appeared to work with great care, gingerly scraping thin layers of oil-drenched sand away with shovels, then depositing it into nearby excavators for delivery into larger dump trucks. Over ten tons of sand has been removed so far.

Randal Ogrydziak, the U.S. Coast Guard captain who is one of the coordinators of the spill response, likens the painstaking process to shoveling a gravel driveway after a snow storm.

“You can think of it as the snow is the oil — not that thick — the driveway is the good sand underneath, and you just want to take bad stuff and get rid of that, and leave the good sand,” Ogrydziak says. “We don’t want to dig up the whole beach here. That’s not what we want to do.”

Oil cleanup itself could disturb the ecosystem along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nowhere is threat more apparent than at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo: Mose Buchele ~ Randal Ogrydziak, the US Coast Guard Captain who is one of the coordinators of the spill.

Ogrydziak’s concern that the cleanup could do “more damage than the oil” is not limited to the sand. This thin barrier island, like the rest of the National Wildlife Refuge, is not meant for people. Now it’s home to ATVs, bobcat excavators, dump trucks, helicopters, and hundreds of response personnel. They – and the oil – all arrived right as migratory animals are passing through on their annual trip.

“The oil spill could not have happened at a worse time,” says Nancy Brown, a spokesperson for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “You have these birds that have migrated literally across the Gulf of Mexico. They arrive here, they are exhausted, [and] all they want to do is get something to eat, get something to drink, rest, and then continue their migration.”

But Brown says if they’re constantly being disturbed by the cleanup activity, “they’re not only not eating, they’re wasting calories trying to get away.”

They can also be spooked from their nests by the activity, leaving eggs and young animals vulnerable to predators. Workers here say they’re doing their best by limiting trips to and from the island, being careful with vehicles, and enforcing a “flight ceiling” on helicopters so they don’t disturb the birds.

Oil cleanup itself could disturb the ecosystem along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nowhere is threat more apparent than at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo: Mose Buchele ~ After the oil was pushed ashore, it was covered by a layer of sand, making it more difficult to detect.

Of particular concern is the endangered whooping crane. This refuge is home to the only naturally-occurring flock of those birds in the world. Around 300 whooping cranes winter here, and many have not yet left for their summer grounds in Canada.

Right as the cranes leave, the Kemps-Ridley sea turtle arrives. That’s also an endangered species. It lays its eggs on the same beaches – now oily beaches – where the response crews are working with excavators and dump trucks to remove the oil.

Jeremy Edwardson, a Fish and Wildlife Biologist, says it will be difficult to measure the full impact of the spill and the recovery efforts.

“I don’t think we’ll ever understand it,” says Edwardson. “There’s some stuff to document and it’s easy to document. But there’s also the potential for oil to be here for years, so it’s possibly going to be an ongoing response.”

Source: StateImpact Texas  ~ A reporting project of  NPR member stations

 

 

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Texas oil spill a concern for whooping cranes

Northern Journal

Environment — April 7, 2014 at 8:31 PM From International

Texas oil spill a concern for whooping cranes                                          

by Maria Church                                                                                  

 

Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class Carlos Vega Crew members work to remove oil on the beaches of the National Seashore Park on Apr. 1 following the Galveston Bay oil spill in Texas. Whooping crane advocates expressed concern after hearing reports of heavy machinery being used in the cleanup effort.

Crew members work to remove oil on the beaches of the National Seashore Park on Apr. 1 following the Galveston Bay oil spill in Texas. Whooping crane advocates expressed concern after hearing reports of heavy machinery being used in the cleanup effort.

An advocacy group for the protection of endangered whooping cranes says it’s “very concerned” about the impacts of a tanker spill in Texas that resulted in 168,000 gallons of oil being dumped into Galveston Bay, less than 300 km from where the birds overwinter.

Oil globs as large as basketballs began washing up on Matagorda Island last week, an area of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where whooping cranes spend the winter season before heading to their northern breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park.

A sizeable operation has been launched by the US Coast Guard to clean up the spill, which happened on Mar. 22 when an oil tanker collided with another ship in the bay, but some are expressing concern that the effects of the cleanup could be devastating to the fragile crane population in the middle of migration.

Chester McConnell, one of the advocates behind Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW), told The Journal his concern stems from what he sees as a lack of concern for the cranes and other endangered species by the cleanup crew.

“The intensive cleanup efforts were doing the job for other needs associated with the beaches and were not too concerned about wildlife,” he said.

FOTWW, along with other conservation groups, made significant noise after hearing reports of heavy equipment and machinery being used early in the cleanup process.

Last week, their outcry made some headway when it was confirmed that cleanup crews will switch to hand tools and equipment that has a “light touch” in areas sensitive to wildlife.

“As of today, our concerns have subsided a bit,” McConnell said in an email Friday.

Lessons to be learned

The whooping cranes are currently in the middle of a staggered migration period that will eventually see the entire population leave Texas and make its way through the US to their summer home in Wood Buffalo.

According to observers, around 25 per cent of the population has already begun migration.

While immediate concern about the safety of whooping cranes has eased, McConnell said it’s important for leaders and politicians to reflect on how they will respond to future emergency environmental threats.

“Those of us interested in whooping cranes have been concerned for many years that something like this oil spill would occur. There is much boat traffic that goes immediately by the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Any of these vessels loaded with oil, chemicals, etc. are a serious threat,” he said.

“Plans need to be developed specifically for the Aransas Refuge vicinity to respond to any future emergencies. Equipment and supplies need to be on call so immediate attention can be directed to any future catastrophe near Aransas Refuge.”

Reports from US media last week confirmed that hundreds of birds were killed by oil from the Galveston spill, a close call for the endangered whooping crane population of less than 300.

“The whooping cranes that use Aransas are the only wild flock remaining on the planet. They are the crown jewels and all other efforts to restore whooping cranes in other locations are dependent on these birds,” McConnell said.

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Unified Command Using More Sensitive Oil Spill Cleanup on Whooping Crane Territory

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is pleased to learn that the Unified Command responsible for the Texas City oil spill cleanup is taking more responsible

Hoping for a sensitive oil spill cleanup.
Hoping for a sensitive oil spill cleanup.

oil removal measures in whooping crane territory. FOTWW expressed serious concerns about intensive methods of cleanup to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representative serving on the Unified Command. After watching large numbers of workers using heavy equipment on other beaches, FOTWW became alarmed that such aggressive measures might have adverse impacts on the whooping cranes still on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Apparently someone listened and responded responsibly.

The Unified Command has issued a statement advising that work along South Matagorda Island will continue “…using a combination of light mechanical equipment and manual tools which include shovels, rakes and buckets.” According to Capt. Randal S. Ogryzdiak, Incident Commander, “Response crews have overcome a series of logistical and environmental challenges to implement an effective and efficient clean-up effort while being acutely sensitive to the fragile wildlife habitat they are working in.” “The Unified Command is pleased with the progress to date, but recognizes there is still important work ahead to complete our clean-up to the satisfaction of the trustees who oversee these environmental, marine and wildlife resources.”

For the present time, FOTWW is now satisfied that the Unified Command is on the right tract and will keep its commitment as Capt. Randal S. Ogryzdiak, Incident Commander advised.

FOTWW will continue to observe the oil spill cleanup and hopes for the best. Our concerns are for the endangered whooping cranes and other wildlife resources along the Texas beaches.

We have posted the following news release from the Texas City “Y” Response Area Command for additional information about the cleanup.

 

————————————————————————————————–

NEWS RELEASE: Texas City “Y” Response Area Command

DATE: April 5, 2014 3:57:00 PM CDT

Update 13: Response efforts continue on South Matagorda Island, Mustang Island and Padre Island National Seashore

PORT O’CONNOR, Texas — Effective shoreline clean-up efforts are on-going, Saturday, along Mustang, South Matagorda and North Padre islands in response to the Texas City oil spill.

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, supported by another 78 persons staffing the Incident Command Post in Port O’Connor.

“Response crews have overcome a series of logistical and environmental challenges to implement an effective and efficient clean-up effort while being acutely sensitive to the fragile wildlife habitat they are working in,” said Capt. Randal S. Ogryzdiak, Incident Commander. “The Unified Command is pleased with the progress to date, but recognizes there is still important work ahead to complete our clean-up to the satisfaction of the trustees who oversee these environmental, marine and wildlife resources.”

Matagorda Island is a unit of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of the only naturally wild flock of whooping cranes in existence. Reduced to 50 birds in 1941, the population has grown approximately four percent every year since recovery efforts began and is currently estimated to be 300 birds. The birds migrate 2,500 miles every winter from Wood-Buffalo National Park in Canada to feed in the Aransas’ refuge’s freshwater and brackish marshes. 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 operations. Whooping cranes are one of the rarest birds in North America. 

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

There are no new reports of impacted and recovered wildlife. However, persons who observe any impacted wildlife should not attempt to capture or handle them, but are urged to call 888-384-2000.

On Saturday afternoon, U. S. Representative Blake Farenthold toured the Incident Command Post and received a comprehensive briefing on response activities and plans. Congressman Farenthold also participated in an overflight of the south Texas coast to see first-hand the response in action and the condition of coastal shorelines.

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.

Persons who may observe tar balls are urged to refrain from attempting their own clean-up activities and are asked to call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 to report the exact locations of any sightings.  The public is discouraged from accessing Matagorda Island until the Unified Command announces that response operations are complete.

The Kirby Inland Marine claims line is available to persons who may have questions regarding personal impacts from the incident. The number is 855-276-1275.

More information on the spill response continues to be available through the Matagorda Bay joint information center at 214-225-8007, or at www.texascityYresponse.com

###

For more information contact:

Matagorda Response JIC
Texas City “Y” Response Area Command
(214) 225-8007
3674 W. Adams St.
Port O’Connor, TX 77982
TexasCityYResponse@gmail.com

http://www.texascityyresponse.com/go/doc/6410/2138986/Update-13-Response-efforts-continue-on-South-Matagorda-Island-Mustang-Island-and-Padre-Island-National-Seashore ;                                                                 To read FOTWW previous article abut the oil spill go to :   https://friendsofthewildwhoopers.org/concerns-mounting-effects-oil-spill-whooping-cranes/

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Whooping Cranes spotted at Cheyenne Bottoms

Whooping Cranes
Great Bend Tribune
By Karen LaPierre County Reporter
klapierre@gbtribune.com

Whooping Cranes spotted at Cheyenne Bottoms
Whooping Cranes – Dr. Dan Witt
Whooping Cranes – Dr. Dan Witt

Two whooping cranes have been spotted at Cheyenne Bottoms. Fifteen were spotted at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Curtis Wolf, site manager for the Kansas Wetlands Education Center said that he got a call from a woman from Kansas City willing to drive hundreds of miles to check seeing an endangered whooping crane off her bucket list.

Source: gbtribune

 

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