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.

Tags wildlife


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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.



Wetlands, Watersheds and Whooping Cranes

Wetlands, Watersheds and Whooping Cranes: Wetland Habitat Restoration in the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska

By , on April 3, 2014

The Whooping Crane (Grus americana) remains one of the most imperiled species in the United States. This Endangered species once ranged throughout the plains and prairies of central North America. It bred in central Canada and the north-central United States and wintered on the Gulf Coast, parts of the Atlantic coast, and as far south as northern and central Mexico. But by the early 1940s habitat loss and unregulated hunting caused the population to shrink to just over 20 birds in the world.

Whooping Cranes at Funk Lagoon Waterfowl Production Area in Nebraska. (The buildings in the background are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District headquarters). Photo by Ronnie Sanchez.
Whooping Cranes at Funk Lagoon Waterfowl Production Area in Nebraska. (The buildings in the background are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District headquarters). Photo by Ronnie Sanchez.

Fortunately, conservation efforts have led to a limited recovery. By 2011, there were an estimated 437 birds in the wild and more than 165 in captivity. Today, the largest and only naturally occurring flock breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada, on the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories. These birds migrate through the central and western U.S. to their wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Although we have made great strides in bringing Whooping Cranes back from the brink of extinction, the situation remains critical. Much of the conservation efforts have focused on the breeding and wintering grounds. Just as important are the areas where Whooping Cranes stop to rest and ‘refuel’ during migration. For the Wood Buffalo National Park breeding population, partners are working to ensure that they have quality habitat along their 2,500 mile journey (over 5,000 miles round-trip).

The Rainwater Basin region of Nebraska lies along this migratory corridor. This wetland complex contains many playa wetlands scattered throughout a 21-county area in the southern part of the state. These shallow, ephemeral ponds provide resting and feeding habitat during migration for millions of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wetland species. Historically bison and wildfire kept the wetlands open, with plants growing only during dry summer months and droughts. With bison gone and wildfires controlled, we now need other ways to maintain habitat for the species that rely on these areas.

To read more, click here: aba blog

Visit the American Birding Association to learn more about that they do.


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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.