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Oil spill consequences looming

Endangered species at risk

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The recent Galveston oil spill, caused by a barge and ship colliding in the industrial shipping channel, has experts greatly concerned about the economic and ecological future of the bay. Right now authorities and workers are still in a mad dash to clean the spill, hoping to mitigate what many are already calling a disaster. From the Texas Tribune:

The 50-mile Houston Ship Channel, one of the world’s biggest waterways for the transport of petroleum products, chemicals, and other materials, remains shut down. Cruise ships can’t depart from key ports. Galveston Bay’s multibillion-dollar recreational and commercial fishing industry is off limits during a peak tourist season. And the scores of vulnerable species in Galveston Bay, most notably birds that are soon to begin their northward migration along the upper Texas coast, are at grave risk.

The type of oil that spilled — a marine fuel oil known as RMG 380 — is black, sticky and particularly heavy. That means that instead of evaporating from the surface of the water like gasoline would, much of it will sink, persisting in the environment for months or even years. While this heavier oil is not acutely toxic, it can smother wildlife, to devastating effect.

The species in the water are also at risk, and oil has a way of traveling up the food chain. Unfortunately, it is difficult to immediately assess how populations are affected. Again, The Texas Tribune:

It could be years before the extent of the consequences to the food chain become clear, because scientists will have to wait for future spawning seasons and will have to test the current populations once they mature. Researchers will have to monitor the possible effects for as much as a decade into the future, Rader said.

In the meantime, fishing activity has been severely curtailed. While state health inspectors have not yet said fish harvested from Galveston Bay cannot be consumed, access to large portions of the bay are cut off, and those wishing to harvest fish farther offshore have no way to get to the Gulf. Recreational charter boats are unable to operate during the peak spring break season, and a number of charter boat business owners have already filed a class-action lawsuit against the operators of the oil barge and bulk carrier that collided, causing the spill.

Crews are now working to protect Matagorda Bay and its host of endangered species from the moving oil.

Photo: John Starnes, Flickr


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