Despite the presence of tar balls and tar mats in the waters off Padre Island National Seashore, biologists have released more than 100 Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico.
Dr. Donna Shaver, the seashore's chief for sea turtle science and recovery, said Friday that the release on Wednesday of 116 hatchlings was preceded by consultations with the nation's top sea turtle experts and was in line with protocols established for releases under such conditions.
Whether the tar balls and mats were from the Deepwater Horizon disaster remains to be seen. However, the Park Service noted in its Morning Report on Friday that a 55-gallon barrel bearing a BP logo had washed ashore at Padre Island.
Yesterday’s collection of oil debris, which made landfall on South Beach, included a 55-gallon BP oil drum that contained several gallons of liquid. The drum was placed in the park’s hazmat facility for collection by the U.S. Coast Guard and for determination and verification of its origins. Hundreds of paper-thin tar balls, observed by the Coast Guard during overflight surveillance operations, have washed ashore in the Big Shell area of South Beach within the park’s boundary. The Port Aransas area, north of the park boundary, was subject to an eight-mile long band of sporadic tar balls making landfall. Cleanup efforts are underway, with Coast Guard officials in the park to assess the situation and to advise on response actions. The park is located over 500 miles from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site. As the volume of the spill increases, currents and strong winds could bring more remnants of the spill to the Texas coast during the coming months.
"The Coast Guard has come out and collected some samples and those are being analyzed now to see if they are part of the Deepwater Horizon," said Dr. Shaver. "The thinking now is that they are not, that they are coming up from the south.”
Over the years thousands of oil rigs have dotted the Gulf of Mexico, and from time to time there have been oil releases. Last summer a leak from a Shell Oil pipeline released more than 58,000 gallons of crude. Indeed, so many spills over the years have conditioned those who operate resorts along the Gulf to prepare for tar balls and oil coming ashore, according to Dr. Shaver.
“For many years there were tar-cleaning stations at the local beachfront hotels before the patrons go into the hotels, to clean the tar off their feet," she said.
Dr. Shaver currently is preparing for another hatchling release next week. The exact day depends, of course, on when the eggs hatch, she said. If oil and tar balls in the seashore's waters become an issue, the release could be moved to another location.
“The plan now is for areas where there is not oil lapping at the shores, where there is not oil immediately off the coast," she said. "Now if the situation changes, and oil threatens our coastline, then there will be contingencies where hatchlings can be moved to another area for release. Where they would be released would be determined where the oil is.”