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Galveston Oil Spill Threatens Key Bird Refuge

Just days before the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a barge collision over the weekend spilled 168,000 gallons of oil into Galveston Bay, threatening a key bird refuge on the Texas gulf coast. The area affected by the spill is just eight miles from the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, a preserved area where a range of geese, ducks, herons and other waterbird species live on protected mudflats. Conservationists caution that the proximity of the sanctuary should have clean-up crews on alert, according to National Geographic:

At least 50 oiled birds have been discovered so far, though the number will likely be much higher as rescuers expand their search, said Richard Gibbons, conservation director of Houston Audubon. ...

Compared with the 2010 Gulf oil spill, which oiled hundreds of birds, "this is a tiny amount of oil in comparison-but it is very, very close to a lot of very, very important places" for birds, Gibbons said.

The proximity to the sanctuary, he said, "makes it something we have to be diligent with."

To deter birds from congregating at Bolivar Flats -- a popular location for birds to flock because crabs, clams and other favorite prey tend to thrive there -- responders have been using noisy hazing cannons, hopeful that the sounds will keep birds away.

Right now, much of the oil appears to be heading southwest -- away from Bolivar -- but Gibbons said Audubon and the other bird groups that oversee the reserve will continue to work on managing the marsh. "We're concerned about all the birds that are oiled," he said, "but we have the most control and responsibility for our own property."