With channel open, cleanup effort shifts to wildlife

GALVESTON, Texas (KXAN) — The Coast Guard partially reopened one of the nation’s busiest seaports to ship traffic Tuesday, three days after a collision between a barge and a ship spilled up to 170,000 gallons of tar-like oil into the waters south of Houston.

About 100 ships were waiting Tuesday morning to move through the channel, which connects Southeast Texas to the Gulf of Mexico and is a key route for tourism and traffic to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

With the channel back open to ship traffic, crews were working feverishly to protect wildlife in the region.

Winds were expected to pick up Wednesday off the coast and move the remaining oil toward the shoreline.

Some of the tar-like oil had already washed up on nearby beaches over the past few days. Rescuers have been able to save some wildlife, but not all.

Coast Guard Captain Brian Penoyer said the overall environmental impact is relatively low, but they’re getting more and more calls about animals in danger.

“We expect that the numbers of wildlife in our rehabilitation centers will grow over time,” Penoyer said.

A trailer stationed in Baytown was acting as a wildlife recovery and rehabilitation center. They were treating at least eight birds Tuesday afternoon. Just as many have died as a result of the oil spill and more birds were being transported to their facility.

The prolonged human contact is not something the birds are accustomed to.

“We bring them in here and we handle them repeatedly,” said Rhonda Murgatroyd with Wildlife Response Services. “We put them in a wash tub and agitate the water…basically we’re bringing them in and inflicting stress on them the whole time they’re in rehabiliatiton.”

And crews out in the field are continuing to find birds impacted by the spill, Richard Arnhart with the Texas General Land Office said.

“We are actively involved in wildlife recovery and have numbers of people out in the field actively looking for wildlife.”

Officials expect remaining oil will move southwest in the coming days. Crews were stationed Tuesday on Matagorda Island where the oil is expected to make landfall soon in the form of tar balls.

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