HOUSTON (AP) — The March oil spill in the Houston Ship Channel is just one of the hundreds of spills occurring in Galveston Bay each year.
Galveston Bay has averaged 285 spills a year since 1998, according to statistics from the Houston Advanced Research Center. Most of those spills are tiny compared to the March 22 incident that caused as much as 170,000 gallons to spill into the Houston Ship Channel.
But Lisa Gonzalez, vice president for the private research center, warns that the total impact of those spills does great damage to wildlife and water quality in a critical, environmentally sensitive area.
"It's like death by a thousand cuts, especially when you combine the oil spills with all of the other stressors to the bay," Gonzalez told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1e4P6mM ).
The U.S. Coast Guard reported Friday that at least 39 dolphins, 17 turtles and 331 birds have died after the spill in and around Galveston and nearby Matagorda Island. Their carcasses were being examined to determine if the oil was a specific cause of death.
But much of the oil that entered the ship channel moved out toward the Gulf of Mexico, sparing many bird habitats and beaches around Galveston Bay. Experts say it's still unclear what species could be affected by the oil, which spilled when a ship collided with a barge carrying 700,000 gallons of heavy crude.
The Texas General Land Office, the lead state agency responding to oil spills, says it received 284 reports of oil spills in the bay in 1998, the first year it began collecting data.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, head of the land office, said more people are reporting incidents that they may not have years ago, and that the state has improved its response to spills in the last few decades.
"We have gone from a culture 30 years ago where (if) you spilled something you didn't tell anybody, where today if you spill something, regardless of the amount, you self-report," Patterson told the newspaper.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com