Concerns Mounting About Effects Of Oil Spill On Whooping Cranes

Concerns Mounting About Effects Of Oil Spill On Whooping Cranes

by Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) concerns are intensifying about the oil spill that occurred March 22 in Galveston Bay, Texas. Tar balls from this spill have now come ashore on Matagorda Island which is a part of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. And the refuge is the winter home of the only remaining wild flock of whooping cranes on the planet. The whoopers are endangered species and should receive the utmost consideration.

After viewing videos of the oil removal videos recorded on South Matagorda Island, Texas on March 31, 2014 FOTWW became alarmed (View on ). The large number of personnel and equipment involved in the cleanup is impressive but serious caution is appropriate as the operation moves onto Aransas Refuge. The size of the operation and techniques needs to be carefully reconsidered when cleanup begins on the refuge portion of Matagorda Island. Whooping cranes and other endangered species must now be the top priority.

 National Seashore Park Oil Cleanup whooping crane
Crew members work to remove oil and reduce impact to the beaches of National Seashore Park April 1, 2014. Machinery was provided by Miller Environmental Service to help sift together any materials containing oil that may have washed up ashore. Crew members worked in large groups to help clean the beach efficiently. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class

 FOTWW contacted Nancy Brown, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get an update on the oil spill. An official from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were officially appointed  to the Unified Command on April 2, 2014. Ms. Brown advised that, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is on the ground trying to determine how best to remove and transport oil off Matagorda Island.

Approximately 4 miles of Matagorda Island beach received significant amounts of oil. Basically the beach area is four miles long and 30 yards wide.  That portion has about 75% of oil on it but the coverage is inconsistent. The impact goes up to the high tide mark and not into the dune system.

Brown continued that the Unified Command was continuing to consider methods to remove the oil off the island with minimal impacts to wildlife and their habitats. She emphasized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have monitors in place and travel with clean-up vehicles to document any impacts to whooping cranes and other species of wildlife.

FOTWW requested Ms. Brown to ask the Unified Command to consider leaving the oil in place on the beach for two weeks to allow time for the whooping cranes to move north on their normal migration. Currently most of the tar balls have been covered by sands washed by on the beach by Gulf of Mexico waves. Based on reports from flyway observers, less than 25% of the whooping cranes have departed from Aransas Refuge. FOTWW believes that the disturbance to the whoopers caused by the oil clean-up operation may be more of a problem than delaying clean-up activities for 2 weeks.

According to the “Texas City “Y” Response” news release, “Wildlife officials report an increase in the number of oiled and recovered birds from the Matagorda / Padre Island area. As of late Monday night 43 deceased animals were in possession of wildlife experts including a mix of loons, herons, terns, shorebirds and others. There are no reports of harmful impacts on Whooping Cranes in the area. Two deceased fresh water turtles were brought to the center over the weekend. Medical analysis will make an ultimate determination regarding the causes of death. Persons who observe any impacted wildlife should not attempt to capture or handle them but are urged to call 888-384-2000.” The Unified Command has made minimizing impacts to wildlife and the refuge landscape a top priority. They are using hand crews and UTVs in an effort to minimize disturbance to shorebirds and other wildlife

The March 22nd Galveston Bay toxic spill continues to threaten bird life and sensitive habitats along a growing stretch of the Texas Gulf Coast. Tar balls nearly the size of softballs have washed ashore on Mustang Island, roughly 200 miles south of the site of the spill. Critical dangers remain for birds and sensitive Gulf habitats.

whooping crane

Last week, Capt. Randal Ogrydziak, deputy sector commander for the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi advised that on Wednesday, a 15-mile patch of oil was seen offshore near the Matagorda pass. Heavy sea began breaking up the patch during the night. Six- to 8-foot waves churned the oil, breaking it up into globs ranging from the size of a basketball court to a fist.

“So that’s all rolling in the surf zone and coming up on the beach and stranding, which is good. Let’s keep it in one place,” Ogrydziak said. While the heavy oil is predicted to stay put – where responders will begin a cleanup – the oil sheen may move farther south, he said. Endangered whooping cranes on Matagorda Island are on the bay side, opposite from where the oil is washing up, Ogrydziak said. “They’re not being impacted by the oil at all,” he said.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, also an endangered species, are expected to reach the island next month. “By May, I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to get the oil off the beach, and the turtles can come in and do what the turtles have to do,” Ogrydziak said.

A Texas City “Y” Response news release reported on April 2, 2014 that “Oil spill response plans for today center around continuing efforts to collect oiled sand and debris from impacted shoreline along South Matagorda and Mustang islands and parts of the Padre Island National Seashore. While high tides may limit areas accessible for safe activity by work crews, “Aggressive work will continue wherever and whenever possible,” according to Matagorda Command Post Incident Commander Randal S. Ogryzdiak.

“Plans for today call for approximately 389 response contractors to continue their good work along the shores in conjunction with federal and state wildlife agency personnel who are on alert for sightings of distressed birds and marine life, “said Incident Commander Randal S. Ogryzdiak. “ I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made to date and am confident we’re moving steadily in the right direction.”

Yesterday, response crews removed approximately 32,900 pounds of oiled sand and debris from shoreline on south Matagorda and Mustang islands and at the Padre Island National Seashore. Since shoreline recovery efforts began, approximately 71,350 pounds of oiled sand and debris has been removed.

Oil on North Padre Island seems confined largely to tar balls in certain areas. Vehicular traffic in the Padre Island National Seashore remains closed to traffic at this time although pedestrians still have access to the area.

Incident Command Rapid Assessment Teams continue their reconnaissance of shoreline and ocean from the Colorado River to the Rio Grande River in Brownsville, TX, which covers approximately 225 miles of south Texas shoreline and comprises two-thirds of the Texas coastline.

Members of the Unified Command are scheduled to participate in an informational session to take place on Thursday, April 3, at the Port O’Connor Elementary School, 508 Monroe Avenue. The session will begin at 6:30 p.m. and allow attendees’ access to officials from a variety of federal, state and local agencies, including the United States Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife, NOAA, Texas Department of Health Services, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

FOTWW seriously urges the Unified Command to consider leaving the oil in place on the Matagorda Island beach for two weeks to allow time for the whooping cranes to move north on their normal migration. Currently most of the tar balls have been covered by sands washed by on the beach by Gulf of Mexico waves. Based on reports from flyway observers, less than 25% of the whooping cranes have departed from Aransas Refuge. FOTWW believes that the disturbance to the whoopers caused by the oil clean-up operation may be more of a problem than delaying clean-up activities for 2 weeks.



Oil Spill May Impact Whooping Crane Habitat

Houston Chronicle

“TEXAS CITY — Traffic in the Houston Ship Channel, which ground to a halt for three days because of an oil spill, resumed Tuesday as authorities prepared for a new cleanup effort on the Matagorda Peninsula southwest of Galveston.

Crews on some 70 vessels worked furiously before weather worsened Tuesday to skim as much oil as possible remaining from a collision in the channel Saturday that poured as much as 168,000 gallons of thick fuel oil into Galveston Bay.

Enough oil had been cleared to allow ships to begin moving again through the section of the Ship Channel affected by the spill. Barges resumed their journeys on the Intracoastal Waterway.

The wind and current pushed a portion of the spill into the Gulf of Mexico, where it was about 10 miles off the coast and moving south, said Capt. Brian Penoyer, captain of the port for Houston/Galveston. The oil is expected to land as tar balls on the Matagorda Peninsula, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said.

Patterson said crews were arriving in Mata­gorda County in preparation for cleanup efforts.

Bad weather with swells as large as 9 feet in the Gulf was expected to make recovery operations difficult Wednesday, said Richard Arnhart, an official with the Texas General Land Office oil response team.

The major cleanup operation is expected to continue for at least several more days, and smaller cleanup efforts will likely continue for weeks, Penoyer said.

Effect on coastline

The oil so far has soiled about 15.5 miles of coastline as a result of the collision between the Liberian-flagged bulk vessel Summer Wind and a barge carrying 900,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel oil. Because of wind and currents, the areas stained with oil were limited to the Texas City Dike, a small area on the western tip of the Bolivar Peninsula, Pelican Island, the Port of Galveston and the eastern end of Galveston Island.

None of the oil has penetrated environmentally sensitive marshes so far, authorities said. Nine dead birds have been reported. Eight soiled birds still alive were moved to a rehabilitation center in Baytown.

Skimmers have scooped about 165,000 gallons of oil-and-seawater mixture and crews picked up 852 bags of oily debris and sand, but it’s hard to know exactly how much oil is in the mix, Penoyer said.

More than 71,000 feet of containment boom has been placed to protect sensitive areas, and 232,600 feet of boom is ready for use. Some of that boom surrounds the 1877 barque Elissa, the official Texas tall ship, in its berth at the Texas Maritime Museum in Galveston. Oil in Galveston Harbor forced the postponement of the ship’s first outing after two years of repairs, said W. Dwayne Jones, Galveston Historical Foundation executive director.

The oil is also soiling the environmentally sensitive Big Reef area on the eastern end of the island, a habitat for birds that have just begun a migration across the Gulf from Mexico into the U.S.

Unseasonably cold weather may have kept the oil from affecting two types of endangered turtles, green and Kemp’s ridley, said Kimberly Reich, director of the Trophic Ecology and Sea Turtle Biology Lab at Texas A&M University in Galveston. Green turtles, which all but vanished before making a comeback in Galveston Bay, typically feed near the Texas City Dike, and the Kemp’s ridley nesting season normally begins about this time of year. But few turtles have been seen in the area, and Reich believes the cold weather may be keeping them away.

A few tar balls appeared on Galveston beaches facing the Gulf of Mexico on Monday and were picked up quickly. Craig Brown, chairman of the Galveston Park Board, said Seawolf Park on Pelican Island remained closed, but the beaches most frequented by tourists were open.”

— Friends of the Wild Whoopers explained that portions of Matagorda Island is a part of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The Matagorda Island Unit of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is part of long chain of barrier islands that extend down the Texas coastline. This rugged landscape is host or home to many amazing wildlife species, including whooping cranes, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, reddish egrets, alligators and coyotes.


Judge Deals Blow to Keystone XL Pipeline.


Posted: 02/19/2014 4:08 pm EST Updated: 02/19/2014 5:59 pm EST


FILE – In this April 19, 2012 file photo, a truck travels along highway 14, several miles north of Neligh, Neb. near the proposed new route for the Keystone XL pipeline. The Canadian company trying to build the disputed Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. submitted a new application for the project Friday after changing the route to avoid environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska judge on Wednesday struck down a law that allowed the Keystone XL oil pipeline to proceed through the state, a victory for opponents who have tried to block the project.

Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy issued a ruling that invalidated Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman’s approval of the route. Stacy agreed with opponents’ arguments that law passed in 2011 improperly delegated the decision-making power to Heineman to give the company eminent domain powers within the state. Stacy said the decision should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines and other utilities.

The lawsuit was filed by three Nebraska landowners who oppose the pipeline.

“Under the Court’s ruling, TransCanada has no approved route in Nebraska,” Dave Domina, the landowners’ attorney, said in a statement. “TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property against Nebraska landowners. The pipeline project is at standstill in this state.”

Domina said the ruling means that the governor’s office has no role to play in the pipeline, and decisions within the state must be made by the Public Service Commission. The decision on a federal permit still rests with President Barack Obama.

The ruling could cause more delays in finishing the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to Texas refineries.

Phone messages left with pipeline developer TransCanada were not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.


Associated Press writer Josh Funk in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.