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Volunteers reportedly find hundreds of dead animals in Galveston

They say the animals include dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans and birds, but some Galveston officials are refuting that.

GALVESTON, Texas — Volunteers have found a disturbing number of dead animals recently on the east end of Galveston island, according to the Galveston County Daily News.

The volunteers monitor island coastal wildlife and say they have found hundreds of dead fish, about 100 dead birds, dead sea turtles and dolphins.

One volunteer found more than 100 dead fish while walking between East Beach and 25th Street on Wednesday.

Volunteers also reported 50 dead pelicans in one day, said Theresa Morris, Gulf program coordinator with the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Heather Putman said she found a dead dolphin near her home in San Leon. 

"We've decided not to go to the beach this summer until we know what's going on and they can confirm it's safe for us to go in the water," Putman said. "With the other animals dying in the Galveston Bay, if it's killing the mammals and the birds – what can it do to us. So we're not going in the water, we're not fishing off our pier here and we're definitely not going to be eating anything out of this water."

The restoration network volunteers and staff aren’t sure what’s causing the deaths.

The state department sent biologists out Wednesday to take water samples and evaluate the event.

Galveston Park Board of Trustees crews found a large number of catfish and a dead sea turtles around East Beach, said spokeswoman Jaree Fortin on Wednesday.

The park board cleans and maintains island beaches but the board staff isn’t noticing a difference in the number of dead animals on beaches.

“Other than the dead catfish this morning, staff has not reported any unusual occurrences of any deceased wildlife,” Fortin said.

The restoration network has to wait for investigations to continue before it learns the cause of the animal deaths, but Morris is worried about potential environmental effects from last month’s fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co. tank fire in Deer Park.

It's difficult to measure the effects of longer-lasting chemicals from the Deer Park fire because there’s little data on how much of the chemicals were already in the area, said Sarah Gossett, water quality manager with the Galveston Bay Foundation.

"With the lack of baseline monitoring that’s occurring, we can’t prove that it was there beforehand,” Gossett said. “It’s difficult to link.”

Thursday evening, a spokeswoman with the Galveston Park Board issued the following statement about this story:

A story that appeared in the Galveston County Daily News reported that volunteers from the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) have sighted an increased number of dead animals on the beach near the Galveston Ship Channel this month. 

The Galveston Park Board’s Coastal Zone Management team, as the entity responsible for cleaning the island’s 32 miles of beaches, cannot substantiate this report at this time but is continuing to investigate. Specifically, in speaking with several major entities involved in the reporting and handling of dead animals or mammals along the Galveston coast, here is what we know:

  • According to the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, there has not been an increase in the amount of deceased dolphins showing up on Galveston shores. In fact, Galveston’s numbers are below average for the year, according to Heidi Whitehead, executive director of TMMSN. 
  • Texas Parks & Wildlife has no record of any significant sightings of dead pelicans near Galveston’s shores this month and certainly not 50 in one day, said Colleen Roco, team biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Region 3 Kills and Spills Team. Texas Parks and Wildlife is currently investigating a “small-scale” fish kill near Bolivar Peninsula that appears to be the result of natural causes. Roco said water quality samples were pulled yesterday to test toxicity levels. 
  • Galveston Park Board Coastal Zone Management (CZM) crews have not seen an increase in the amount of dead wildlife on the island’s beaches. CZM crews are responsible for cleaning Galveston’s 32 miles of beaches, contacting appropriate authorities when wildlife is found and either handing the wildlife over for necropsy or burying it. 
  • Galveston Park Board Coastal Zone Management crews did report a significant amount of filleted catfish carcasses that washed up on East Beach on Wednesday. It is a regular occurrence that can be attributed to the by-catch that gets thrown overboard by shrimpers. 
  • The City of Galveston’s Animal Services Supervisor, Josh Henderson, said he has not been contacted regarding any irregular occurrences of dead animals on or near the beaches. Animal Services is typically notified by organizations and community members when anything appears out of the ordinary with wildlife in Galveston.


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