Marine scientists are concerned that Saturday’s oil spill in Texas’s Galveston Bay will mean long-term dangers for the area’s wildlife. The spill occurred over the weekend when a ship collided with a barge carrying more than 900,000 gallons of fuel oil in the bay. According to Fox News, officials believe only one of the barge’s tanks were damaged by the accident. However, it is not known how much of the tank’s estimated 158,000 gallons of oil leaked out into the bay.
While not a large spill when compared to disasters like the Deepwater Horizon incident four years ago, experts say that the type of oil spilled in Galveston Bay can be more dangerous to wildlife. Fuel oil is thick and prone to clumping together or sticking to objects. Unlike the comparatively light crude oil spilled in the Deepwater incident, fuel oil may sink to the bottom of the bay and become a permanent addition to the area.
“That’s the real danger of these things,” John Pardue, director of the Louisiana Water Resources Research Institute, told USA Today. “They serve as a reservoir of oil that in the future can be re-mobilized. You just don’t know where it is.”
That is not welcome news for commercial or recreational fishermen that depend on the bay. Galveston Bay produces more seafood than any other bay in the United States and is one of the most productive in the world. Experts say that the effect on the area’s wildlife will likely start from the bottom of the food chain: shrimp larvae and menhaden. The Texas Tribune reported that researchers like biologist Greg Stunz are most worried about the oil reaching the nearby marshes. It the oil does, it could become a nightmare for cleanup workers to dislodge. The marshes are also where a large amount of the area’s wildlife make their homes.
“Once they start using the marshes, that is the defining moment of when everything’s got to be just right,” Stunz said. “The marshes are their homes and grocery stores. And if your home’s polluted, you’re not going to survive.”
Conservationists are worried that the spill could affect Galveston Bay’s shorebird population, which live in the area’s mud flats. Texas recovery officials are attempting to contain the spill with thousands of feet of boom, and cleanup workers are operating at night with infrared cameras. The Coast Guard has since lifted traffic restrictions, but fishing is still limited. According to Coast Guard officials, six crew members were injured during the initial collision but the condition of the oil barge has not been released.
A number of charter boat owners have already filed a class-action lawsuit against the barge operator and the owner of the other ship involved in the collision.
Image courtesy NASA