Three weeks ago on March 22, two ships collided with each other in Galveston Bay's Houston Ship Channel off the coast of Texas that caused over 168,000 gallons of marine and fuel oil to spill into the water. Since then, thousands of responders have been scrambling to contain the oil from pushing further down the Texas coast into more wildlife habitats and our beaches. Unfortunately, tides and weather didn't help the situation much in the beginning, and oil spread further west. Over 1,000 birds have died a slow death, even some listed under the Endangered Species Act because of not being able to rid oil off their feathers, eyes, or bills, and eventually accidentally ingesting oil in contaminated water. What's really sad is that some of these birds native to the Arctic Circle area, were set to migrate back to their home after feeding off the Galveston coast - but now some won't make it even half way back. There is also a suspicion that 29 dead dolphins found in the Galveston Bay area might have been contaminated by oil.
With thousands of responders trying to cleanup oil and its aftermath, the United States Coast Guard has stepped in tremendously to help the situation by monitoring and organizing efforts to survey the coast, initiate volunteer efforts, and maintain routine checkups on cleaned areas. I wanted to take my environmental volunteering up a notch from last year's Adopt-A-Beach cleanup, so I applied to be a volunteer with the Galveston Bay Foundation. Thousands of volunteers poured in from around the state to help, but only about 949 people were pulled into a pool of candidates to help meet ongoing response needs. I was SO excited when I received word that Thursday I had been chosen to be a volunteer for that weekend on Saturday! So I packed up my rainboots, warm clothes, and drove five hours down to Galveston Island.
We got briefed by the United States Coast Guard on our assignment at 8:30 AM, grabbed our badges, some water and snacks, and headed to the shuttles that would be dropping us off. Throughout our assignment, we were to report observations and findings of any fresh oil, tar balls, or dead marine life along a 26-mile stretch of beach between San Luis Pass and Stewart Beach. We split up into groups of seven and reported back to the Unified Command in coordination with the U.S Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office, Central Texas Coastal Area Committee, and the city of Galveston who then sent response crews with proper training and equipment. I was really impressed by the organization of the volunteer efforts. Before we departed, everyone went around the room giving their 'media clip' in case we were asked what we were doing. Everyone who reported for volunteering on Saturday had a story of why they felt compelled to help in any way. From a local Galveston resident and fisher, to a teenage boyscout who wanted to be a marine biologist when he grew up, you could feel so much desire and determination in the room to help make things right by giving back to make sure our coastal communities would be safe.
When we got dropped off at the beach, instantly we noticed it was low tide, about 10 degrees colder, and very windy with overcast skies like it was going to rain. Luckily it stayed dry for us throughout the whole walk. For those of you who follow ArtSea Chic on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you might've noticed I was capturing some of the discoveries on the walk LIVE as we worked our way down the beach for a little over 3 miles.
My first creature find was this beautiful monarch butterfly just laying in a small pool of water with sand covering its wings. It was still holding on, so I gently picked it up and brushed as lightly as I could the wet sand off its wings. I set it on some grass way over past the sand dunes so he would have more of a chance to recover. So sad to see a helpless situation; nature has its course - unless I step in.
For the first 30 minutes or so, we didn't find any dead birds or fresh oil/tar balls... until we went a little further down, and they just started popping up little by little. Although we didn't see any fresh oil, which was a good sign, we found dozens of little tar balls that had been washed up on shore and found three dead birds that had signs of oil residue on their feathers.
Some of the local residents who seems to take regular morning strolls on the beach stopped to ask us what we were doing and if we could give them an update on the oil spill situation. This was great to see, because they are aware, getting informed, and care enough to walk up to random volunteers in red hats.haha I had two ladies who came up to me telling me about a few large tar balls they saw days prior and thanked us for helping out.
So lets face it, my eyes are naturally drawn to shells. I couldn't help but also keep any eye out for some gems. Boy was I glad I did too! I never thought our Texas coast was anywhere near as shelltastic as the beaches in Florida, but after this trip I certainly have a totally different perspective on shelling on Texas' beaches! I found some of the BIGGEST Angel Wing shells, beating out the ones in my Florida collection. They were as tall as my hand! I found a couple live moon snails, and unfortunately couldn't take their home, so I went about my shelling business and found an older moon snail shell that had a few holes in it, but it sufficed.
I also came along some really neat marine life. A couple rocks with pink and purple barnacles were washed back from low tide, which was really cool to see. Lots of moon snails, and then a really big jellyfish! I've never come across a beached jellyfish so big, and especially on a Texas beach.
We walked our way down to the end of Galveston Island State Park, and then the sun finally came out and warmed us up!
We ended our surveying around 1PM on schedule to head back to turn in our survey findings to the United States Coast Guard members assigned to our shift. The walk way fantastic, and I really felt we were able to help save professional oil spill responders time by surveying the beach ahead of time so they would be prepared with the tools they needed to cleanup. It was educational, organized, and really showed the full circle aftermath of what an oil spill does beyond the water it contaminates.
I would highly encourage anyone interested in taking their desire to help our environment to the next level to just look for volunteer opportunities. Your time really does make a difference!
On Sunday, Mr. ArtSea Chic and I decided to scope out a beach area on the east side of Galveston that we had never been to before to do a little exploring and relaxing. We decided on Bolivar Peninsula which is a long stretch of beach away from the noise of the city with hardly any buildings, homes, or parking lots on half of it; my kind of beach! Our golden, Andi needed a little outdoors time, so we took her with us. We grabbed an ice chest full of drinks, sandwiches, chips, and fruit so we could have lunch on the beach in the truck bed with the whole coastline as our view (always wanted to do this!).
After we ate, we spent the rest of the afternoon shelling and walking the beach. A man who shells with you is a keeper ladies ;) Mr. ArtSea Chic found some really awesome shells, driftwood pieces, and sea glass for me that I was really excited about getting to keep. Truth be told, I had never seen sea glass in person till this day, and I felt like we had uncovered a diamond cave! Right by the truck I also found two really big moon snail shells that were in perfect condition.
During our walk we came across a pretty decent sized redfish that had washed ashore. Obviously dead for more than a few days given his eyes weren't there anymore, but it was cool to see a redfish the size Mr. ArtSea Chic usually catches on a good day of fishing.
We also noticed there was a ton of broken conch shell pieces everywhere we stepped! Gosh if only we would've found a whole one :( Mr. ArtSea Chic is now determined to find one himself sometime.haha A few bundles of white roses were also among some shell piles. Kind of random, but we assumed they were from either a wedding or an at-sea ceremony.
Couldn't have asked for a better day at the beach with my loves - except for warmer temperatures and less wind, I was freezing in 60 degrees. Now I know where to go for some sea glass and generally good shelling on the Texas coast! We will be back on the beaches of Bolivar Peninsula hopefully this summer to camp out and shell.
I had such a fun weekend! Hope you all enjoyed seeing a little behind-the-scenes of the Galveston Bay oil spill relief efforts. Make sure to follow ArtSea Chic on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@ArtSeaChic) because I share different pictures and info on each profile, would love to hear from you!
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