Volunteers who monitor island coastal wildlife say they’ve encountered unusually high numbers of dead animals near the Galveston Ship Channel this month, but they’re not sure why.
One volunteer walking the area between East Beach and 25th Street on Wednesday morning found more than 100 dead fish, said Theresa Morris, Gulf program coordinator with the Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Volunteers walk the beach for signs of nesting sea turtles, and on those walks have found hundreds of dead fish, about 100 dead birds and dead sea turtles and dolphins, Morris said.
Volunteers reported 50 dead pelicans in one day, Morris said.
“It’s very alarming,” Morris said.
The restoration network this year began monitoring April 1.
Large numbers of fish can die off for various reasons, both natural or human-caused, Morris said.
“There are other situations where we will see large fish kills,” Morris said. “This one is kind of unique because of the quantities and the range of species.”
Although volunteers have found dead animals across the island, the majority are concentrated on Galveston’s East End and western Bolivar Peninsula, she said.
The restoration network volunteers and staff aren’t sure what’s causing the kills, Morris said. The network reports its findings to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, which conducts monitoring, she said.
The state department sent biologists out Wednesday to take water samples and evaluate the event, spokeswoman Julie Hagen said.
There are natural events that cause fish to die off, Hagen said. When temperatures rise in the summer, oxygen in the water decreases, which can cause fish kills, Hagen said.
“It’s a little early for that,” Hagen said.
Water samples could take up to two weeks before biologists obtain definite results, she said.
Galveston Park Board of Trustees crews on Wednesday found a large number of catfish and a dead sea turtles around East Beach, spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.
The park board cleans and maintains island beaches.
But the park board staff isn’t noticing a difference in the number of dead animals on beaches, she said.
“Other than the dead catfish this morning, staff has not reported any unusual occurrences of any deceased wildlife,” Fortin said.
The park board, which maintains the beaches, reports dead sea turtles, dolphins or birds it finds to animal control or the responsible agencies, Fortin said. The staff buries dead fish and seagulls, she 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, she said.
The fire, which began March 17, led to chemicals leaking from the plant into the ship channel March 22 after a containment wall failed.
It’s not yet clear what the long-term effects from the incident are, said Sarah Gossett, water quality manager with the Galveston Bay Foundation.
The nonprofit has been collecting water samples in the vicinity of the plant leak, she said.
The nonprofit initially found higher levels of benzene in the water, but this chemical dissipates relatively quickly, she said.
Measuring the effects of longer-lasting chemicals used in the firefighting foam and other industrial products is difficult because there’s little data on how much those chemicals occurred in the area before last month’s incident, she said.
“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.”
Local and state agencies are still conducting analysis, which could take some time to complete, Gossett said.