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Oil Cleanup Moves Carefully On Matagorda & Padre Island

Padre Island National Seashore has reopened its beaches after cleanup of the oil spill that made its way from Galveston to the southern coastline.

But farther up the coast, government agencies and volunteers are still struggling to clean up the oil that settled in at Matagorda Island, while protecting its wildlife.

It’s been more than two weeks since a barge in the Houston Ship Channel spilled 168,000 gallons of oil into Galveston Bay. It took a while for the oil to drift southward to the pristine beaches that draw more than 300 bird species each spring. 

Nancy Brown with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said about two-thirds of Matagorda Island has been impacted by the spill, in a key area for migratory birds coming across the Gulf of Mexico. 

"Our priority is to not only make sure the environment is safe for them but we also want to do it with the least amount of impact; not only to those birds that are migrating but to the whooping cranes that are here right now, to the aplomado falcons, to the Kemp's ridley sea turtles that are about to begin nesting," Brown said. 

Brown said she is concerned about multiple opportunities for the wildlife to become sick.

"The Kemp's ridley sea turtles right now are staging; they're basically preparing to come onshore to nest," Brown said. "And so that's the big concern, because not only are they going to crawl up on these beaches, but then they have to go through that oil-soaked vegetation to lay their eggs."

So far 110 animals including birds, dolphins and sea turtles have been recovered and will be tested later to find out how many died from oil contamination. 

Ten tons of contaminated soil and debris reportedly has been removed from the 25-mile stretch of the island contaminated by the oil.