National Wildlife Refuge System

Impacts at Texas Oil Spill

The only naturally wild flock of whooping cranes lives on Matagorda Island which sustained significant damage because of the oil spill.
Credit: USFWS

April 21, 2014 – A month after a ship collided with an oil barge in the Houston, TX, channel, almost two million pounds of oiled sand have been removed and 187 deceased animals have been collected from Matagorda Island, part of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The spill – named the Texas City Y Spill because the site is near the intersection of three major waterways – comes just as the migratory shorebird season approaches.  A significant amount of oil drifted to Matagorda Island, winter home to the only naturally wild flock of whooping cranes. When the spill occurred, approximately 70 percent of the estimated 304 whooping cranes had not yet begun their migration to Canada and about 40-60 were on Matagorda Island.

The oil spilled impacted about 25 miles on the Gulf side of Matagorda Island.
Credit: USFWS

Matagorda is part of a barrier island chain that extends along most of the Texas shoreline. In addition to wintering whooping cranes, the island has 11 pairs of nesting aplomado falcons, a resident bird that was extirpated from the United States in the 1950s and is being successfully reintroduced.  Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are currently staging in the Gulf and are expected to begin nesting on area beaches, the most northern extent of their historic range. The barrier islands along the Texas coast are important for many other migratory birds, including piping plover and shorebirds that feed on the sandy beaches and roost in the vegetation of the foredune. The bay system behind Matagorda Island is made up of estuarine flats, tidal flats and sea grass beds that support shell fish, sport fish, wintering waterfowl, sea turtles and more.

Almost two million pounds of oiled sand have been removed from after an oil spill one month ago.
Credit: Jeff Adams

Cleanup Challenges

Challenges for the cleanup operation include limited access to Matagorda, extremely remote conditions, high tides and changing weather. Operations include task forces using manual labor and light mechanical equipment to remove the oily waste. At the cleanup’s peak, 520 staff, 103 off-road vehicles, 104 dump trucks, 15 skid steer loaders, three helicopters and 31 boats were used.

A total of 90 miles of shoreline were impacted by oil that drifted south. In addition to Matagorda Island, privately-owned San Jose Island, Mustang Island State Park, and the North Padre Island National Seashore were also impacted.

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Last updated: April 21, 2014