Oil spill clean-up: Ten tons removed from Matagorda Island

Oil spill clean-up: Ten tons removed from Matagorda Island

KHOU 11 News

by Doug Miller

khou.com,  Posted on April 8, 2014 at 12:11 AM

Updated today at 9:57 AM  

MATAGORDA ISLAND — Amid one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in America, a place where birds almost always outnumber the few humans venturing to a remote island, workmen are now hauling away tons of beach sand contaminated by oil.

Men wearing protective suits scratch at the sand on Matagorda Island, using shovels to unearth the layer of oil lingering beneath a thin film of freshly deposited sand.

“Right,” says George Degener, a U.S. Coast Guard petty officer. “We want to remove as much contaminated debris as we can, but still leave as much clean sand in the area as we possibly can.”

More than two weeks have passed since a barge carrying oil collided with another vessel at the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel, triggering a spill that shut down traffic flowing into the Port of Houston and coated an unknown number of birds in oil during their migratory season. But the consequences of that accident are still evident along the Texas coastline, on distant shores like Matagorda Island.

Oil washed ashore along 24 miles of the island’s beaches, leaving black stains not only in the sand but also on debris like logs. Coast Guard spokesmen say all but about four miles have since been cleaned by workers who’ve removed more than 10 tons of contaminated soil and contaminated debris.

Most of the oil has dried out, in some places developing into patches looking like asphalt on the beach. But some of it still glistens in pools.

“As the oil settled and tide brought in layers of sand over it, it’s dried out,” Degener says. “And it’s become almost asphalt-like. As it lays in, the toxins will evaporate and the oil will actually harden. So that’s what they’re trying to remove right now.”

Unlike the heavily developed beaches in Galveston where the oil spill originated, Matagorda Island is almost entirely vacant land where birds are more common than people. As part of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, it is the winter home to the world’s largest flock of endangered whooping cranes.

This spill has washed ashore not only at a bad place, but also at a bad team. Ridley sea turtles are expected to begin crawling out of the Gulf of Mexico, crossing the beaches and laying their eggs in the grassy dunes.

“One of the challenges for wildlife in this situation is that we have a lot of migrating birds,” said Nancy Brown, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “And this includes whooping cranes. Whooping cranes are about to begin their migration. And migration is an incredibly dangerous time for a bird.”

So far, none of the oil has turned up on the bay side of the island around the whooping crane habitat. But wildlife experts are still worried that all the activity surrounding the cleanup will somehow affect the migration of the rare birds, which are accustomed to spending their winters on a virtually deserted island.

“There are more people on this island right now than there are whooping cranes in existence in the world,” Brown said. “So we’re very concerned about that. And we’re working as part of this effort to try minimize the impact to that highly endangered bird.”

The Coast Guard says Kirby Inland Marine, which owns the barge from which the oil spilled, is paying for the cleanup. Nobody knows how much it will cost, a company spokesman says, because nobody knows how long the cleanup will take.

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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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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 dvidshub.net ). 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.

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Whooping cranes to benefit from USFWS water release

Kearney Hub

Releases expected to continue until May 10

Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 1:15 pm

KEARNEY — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started releasing into the Platte River water from its environmental account stored in Lake McConaughywhooping cranes
primarily to benefit endangered whooping cranes during their migration stopover in central Nebraska.

The releases started Saturday and are expected to continue until May 10. They should increase Overton-to-Grand Island flows to about 1,700 cubic feet per second.

That is the minimum flow in a dry year that USFWS officials believe is necessary to provide and maintain adequate roosting and feeding habitat for whooping cranes on the Platte River. Such flows are not unusual at this time of year and are well-below flood levels.

All the environmental account water should be past Grand Island by around May 24.Whooping cranes use the Central Flyway to migrate to Canada for the summer. It’s the same route used by hundreds of thousands of other migrating birds, including around 500,000 sandhill cranes. They all stop in the Central Platte Valley in March and April to feed in area fields and roost overnight in the river.

The environmental account was established in 1999 and is managed by the USFWS to benefit four federally listed threatened or endangered species — whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers and pallid sturgeon.

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