Students Protect Inlets from Oil Contamination
A new Texas Tidal Inlet Protection Strategies (TIPS) program, being developed by researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, will soon be in place to protect our state’s sensitive bays and estuaries from the potential harm of offshore oil spills. The bays and estuaries of the Texas coast serve as nurseries for several species of marine organisms including sport fish. These estuaries are connected to the Gulf of Mexico through various inlets. An oil spill in any of these sensitive habitats has the potential to kill fish and even shut down popular tourist areas. A spill could create a threat, not only to the tourist economy, but if it is near a large inlet like the shipping channel, it has the potential to interrupt shipping traffic.
The National Spill Control School (NSCS) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi received a $144,430 grant from the Texas General Land Office to create the oil protection plan for the Texas coast. The project will cover twenty-two inlets from the Rio Grande River to the Sabine River. Mr. H.A. Tony Wood, Director of the NSCS, and Dr. James C. Gibeaut, Endowed Associate Research Professor for the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, will serve as the primary investigators for the project.
Under the TIPS program, researchers will develop specific plans for each tidal inlet detailing how to contain and possibly divert spilled oil before the connecting bays, estuaries, and rivers are affected.
“These inshore marine species are at the base of the marine food chain and support sport and commercial fisheries, ecotourism, and the quality of life for everyone who lives in or visits the Texas coast,” said Mr. Wood. “Protecting them in the event of an oil spill will be of paramount importance.”
The information gathered by the NSCS will aid the oil spill response community by identifying resources and action guidelines during spills for each of the coastal inlets. This information will result in reduced response time, unity among responders, and reduced risk to coastal resources. The action guidelines will make sure the oil is removed while it is still in the water, as this is much easier, than removing it from the tidal inlet shorelines, flats, mangroves, inland bays, and estuaries.
“This research will help our university students gain valuable experience in environmental response planning,” said Mr. Wood.
Mr. Wood has over 31 years’ experience as an environmental and safety consultant. He became the Director of the NSCS and an Adjunct Professor of Environmental Science for the University in 2010. Dr. Gibeaut has consulted with the State of Alaska and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on matters concerning the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Gibeaut has over 25 years’ experience in collecting data from coastal areas.