Hurricane Ike Storm Debris Creates a Mammoth Cleanup Problem at Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore beaches like this one are normally a delight to behold. Photo by heydere, via Flickr.

Debris created by Hurricane Ike litters the beaches at Padre Island National Seashore. Cleaning it up is a mammoth task that must be done quickly.

In the aftermath of powerful Hurricane Ike, ocean currents carried a vast amount of storm debris southward along the Texas Gulf Coast. Waves have dumped tons and tons of this debris on the normally clean beaches at Padre Island National Seashore. Now the National Park Service needs to get roughly 60 miles of beaches cleaned up as quickly as possible.

The debris on the beaches represents an amazing assortment of junk, big and small. Piled on the beach and swashing in the surf are the remains of shattered houses mixed in with kitchen appliances, TV sets, furniture, Christmas decorations, and a huge mish-mash of small items, including a lot of plastic.

The cleanup at Padre Island has been going on for several weeks now, and there is still much to be done. Every day has seen more debris come ashore, and just how much will have been deposited by the time this sorry episode is over remains a matter of conjecture. Cleaning up a single mile of beach can yield over a thousand industrial-size bags of smaller items as well as many dumpster-size loads of larger stuff.

Ugliness and sanitation/hygiene/safety issues aside, the shoreline debris poses serious problems for the seashore wildlife. Plastic litter is easily mistaken for food, and ingesting it can injure or kill many animals and birds. Entanglement poses an additional threat. In some places, beaches are so clogged with debris that nesting sea turtles may not be able to traverse the beach or dig nests at preferred, reasonably safe places.

The Kemp’s Ridley turtle, one of the most endangered of the sea turtles, is one species that Padre Island National Seashore is especially concerned about. The Seashore operates a successful, well publicized program to enhance this species’ nesting success.