EVENTS SINCE 1994
Since the initial writing of this history several events have occurred which have significantly effected the National Seashore.
Over the last nine years the park has gradually shifted the operations of the headquarters from the Flour Bluff office to the ranger station. When Butch Farabee was superintendent, he maintained his official office in Flour Bluff, but spent a great deal of time in the park. When Pat McCrary became superintendent, he transferred his office to the ranger station's old dispatch office, which had been renovated for his use, but the administrative staff remained in the Flour Bluff office until February of 1999. A complete renovation of the old ranger station on the island was completed at that time and converted to the park Headquarters and the administrative staff moved into it.
That move resulted in much improved access to, and communications with, the administrative staff. The park's curatorial collection was moved from the Flour Bluff office to the Connor Museum at Texas A&M University in Kingsville, TX in April of 2000, at which time the GSA lease on the Flour Bluff office was terminated.
From 1994-2000 there were many developments with the various sea turtle projects conducted at Padre Island National Seashore (PAIS). During this time, Donna Shaver, U.S. Geological Survey Station Leader, continued to lead the projects, which were cooperatively conducted by the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey. During various years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Canon U.S.A., Inc., Shell Oil Company, the National Park Foundation, and Unilever provided funding to assist with this work.
The primary sea turtle project conducted during this time was the effort to detect and protect sea turtle nests and determine the results of the experimental project to increase Kemp's ridley nesting at PAIS. This effort involved daily patrols on North Padre Island and public education efforts. From 1994-1999, 69 sea turtle nests were found on the Texas coast, including 50 at Padre Island National Seashore. Among the 69 found during these six years were 49 Kemp's ridley, 14 loggerhead, five green turtle, and one hawksbill nests. An increased number of Kemp's ridley nests was found during each of five consecutive years beginning in 1995 and culminating in 1999 with a record 16 nests. The hawksbill nest, found at Padre Island National Seashore, was the first confirmed for the Texas coast. In comparison, only 12 sea turtle nests were found on the Texas coast between 1979-1993, including six Kemp's ridley, five loggerhead, and one green turtle nests. Eggs form virtually all of the 69 nests found between 1994-1999 were transported to the PAIS incubation facility for protected care and all hatchlings from these eggs were released on the beach at PAIS and allowed to enter the surf there. Numerous NPS and USGS officials, media representatives, and visitors attended these releases.
From 1994-2000, patrols to detect nesting on North Padre Island were greatly expanded over 1986-1993 levels. The recent increase in the number of detected nests may reflect increased nesting, improved detection efforts and patrols, increased awareness and reporting by the public, or a combination of all.
Attempts were made to examine as many of the nesting Kemp's ridleys as possible, to determine whether they were from the experimental project. However, many re-entered the water before staff arrived on site and hence it was only possible to examine about half of the nesters. The first two confirmed returnees from the experimental project were found nesting in 1996. Through 1999, Shaver identified a total of nine Kemp's ridley turtles from the experimental project that returned to nest in South Texas. These nine individuals laid a total of 13 clutches of eggs, most at PAIS. These were the first confirmed records of sea turtles experimentally imprinted to an area returning to that area to nest and first confirmed records of head-started sea turtles nesting outside of captivity.
The Kemp's ridleys currently nesting in south Texas are probably a mixture of both returnees from the experimental project and turtles from the wild stock. Unfortunately, most dead adult Kemp's ridleys found washed ashore in the U.S. from 1995-1998 were located in south Texas. Deaths of adult Kemp's ridleys in south Texas could threaten the success of the project to increase Kemp's ridley nesting there. There continued to be a strong relationship between shrimp trawling and strandings on Texas Gulf beaches during the Gulf shrimping season. To address this problem, several environmental groups proposed a closure of waters off Padre Island to commercial fishing in 1999; waters off the primary Kemp's ridley nesting beach (Rancho Nuevo) are closed to commercial fishing. In 1997, Shaver initiated an investigation using satellite telemetry to study the movements of Kemp's ridleys that nested in south Texas. Results from this study are being used to delineate usage of south Texas waters and aid with detection of subsequent nesting.
On February 5, 1995, the Norwegian tankers BERGE BANKER and SKAUBAY collided while transferring heavy crude oil between them. As a result, 50,000 gallons (approximately 858 barrels) of oil spilled into the Gulf about 40 miles south of Galveston. After drifting down the coast for almost three weeks, the first quantities of oil and tar began washing up on Padre Island National Seashore on February 25th. A response team and equipment were mobilized with Sean Baker named as Incident Commander.
The oil accumulated quickly and on Feb. 26th Malaquite and North Beaches were ordered closed to visitors. On the 27th the area from mile marker 5 to the Mansfield Channel was closed as well and the party deemed responsible for the spill had a contracted cleaning crew of 180 personnel on site. Heavy equipment was used to pile sand into windrows to prevent oil from reaching the dune line at high tide. The remaining few miles were closed on March 1st, when oil covered the entire Gulf side of the National Seashore.
All divisions of park staff were charged with supporting the clean-up operations. Resource management dedicated all its personnel to the cleanup for such tasks as performing incident command duties; monitoring and documenting the cleanup; surveying park resources; collecting Global Positioning System data; and providing support to federal, state, park, and contractor officials. Maintenance provided employees to perform cleanup of park facilities, buildings, and equipment; provide logistical support in the form of vehicles, radios, and equipment; man road barricades; and monitor the cleanup. Interpretation provided public information services such as interacting with the media, providing interviews, producing site bulletins, fielding visitor complaints, and issuing press releases. Law Enforcement provided helicopter security, provided radio and telephone dispatch services, monitoring of road closures, and beach and road patrols. Administration Division handled budget matters, provided incident daily resource reports, purchased materials and supplies, and provided computer and repair services. Almost all divisions performed the additional duties of patrolling for oiled wildlife, manning road barricades, monitoring the cleanup, and providing various administrative support services.
Two personnel were brought in from other National Park units to assist. Mr. Ernest Ralston, Oil and HAZMAT Emergency Response Coordinator from the National Park Service's Environmental Response, Planning, and Assessment Unit was dispatched to the National Seashore to act as the on-scene advisor to the park's Incident Commander. He acted in the capacity of technical liaison to ensure compliance with environmental and other applicable regulations. Mr. David Vekasy, Supervisory Park Ranger, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, was selected for a two week detail to compile the chronology of the event, write the final incident report, and perform other duties as assigned by the Incident Commander.
Oil-soaked sand was piled up and carted off by dump trucks to an area set aside by the Kleberg Co. government. As more oil washed ashore more contracted personnel and heavy equipment were needed. By March 7th, the clean-up crew numbered 400. Initially heavy equipment consisted of 14 maintainers, 8 front-end loaders, and 10 dump trucks. As operations progressed more dump trucks were brought in to carry off contaminated sand. On one day shortly before the end of the cleanup 80 dump trucks were used to haul away sacks of tarballs.
North Beach and Malquite reopened on March 17th, South Beach on March 19th The park resumed normal operations on March 20th after 24 days.
77 oiled birds were found. Three were sent to the Port Aransas Marine Science Institute for rehabilitation. The remainder were dead.
On November 12-13, 1998 representatives from Resource Trustees and the Responsible Party (RP) met at the Tremont House in Galveston, Texas to discuss compensation for damages. The Resource Trustees were represented by staff from Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the Texas General Land Office, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, the Department of the Interior Office of the Solicitor, and the National Park Service. The Responsible Party was represented by attorney and staff from Eastham, Watson, Dale & Forney, Cecil Consulting, Triangle Economic Research, and Vanguard Environmental. With regards to the National Seashore, the tentative agreement reached agreed to the following:
A final settlement was reached in 1999. 2,136 square meters of dunes will be created with $40,000 will be alloted for dune monitoring and another 15,480 cubic yards of sand will be used to replace that lost during the clean-up. A monetary settlement in the amount of nearly $212,000 will be used in some aspect of visitor use.
On March 18, 1996 a second major oil spill occurred far to the north which had significant impact on the National Seashore. The T/B BUFFALO 292 buckled its midsection in the Houston Ship Channel spilling approximately 5,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf. By comparison, the BERGE BANKER incident spilled 858 barrels.
On March 28, park officials were notified the spill might impact Padre Island within the following few days. The next day, March 29, a staff meeting was held to plan the response and prepare to implement the incident command system. A unified command post was established at the Corpus Christi Sheraton by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). In addition to the National Park Service and USCG, other organizations participating in the unified command were the Texas General Land Office and Buffalo Marine Services, Inc., the owners of Tankbarge (T/B) Buffalo 292, who accepted full financial responsibility for the spill. Other organizations participating in the response were the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC), Nueces County, and Kleberg County.
From March 30-April 2 park beaches were monitored for incoming tar. Small quantities were found, but not enough to warrant an organized response. On April 1, Resource Management Specialist Paul Eubank was named as the Incident Commander. Park officials contacted NPS regional officials; Dan Hamson, the National Park Service oil spill expert; and Glenn Sekavec, the Department of the Interior Regional Environmental Officer.
On April 5, the first tar began washing ashore at the 5 mile marker. On April 9, enough oil came ashore between the 5-49 mile markers to warrant an organized response. The response lasted 18 days, from April 9 until April 26. Although the amount spilled was much greater than that in the BERGE BANKER incident, neither the impact nor the response was as great. At most around 200 personnel contracted by the Responsible Party worked on the National Seashore at any one time. No beaches were closed during cleanup operations, however, the public was advised to remain away from cleanup personnel. Approximately $1,230 of revenue was lost by the park in entrance fees.
For the Buffalo 292 spill, no settlement has yet been reached. The responsible party, the NPS and the other natural resource trustees (US Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Texas General Land Office) will start negotiations during fiscal year 2000.
Since 1997 Padre Island National Seashore has participated in the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, known as the "Fee Demo Program". The program started in 1996 when Congress passed the Omnibus Consolidated Recisions and Appropriations Act and later the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 establishing the three year Recreational Fee Demonstration program to run through 1999. The first phase was announced in November, 1996. The second phase was announced in March, 1997 and included Padre Island National Seashore. The law allows parks in the program to retain 80% of the revenues collected until the end of fiscal year 2002.
Fiscal year 1999 collections for the National Seashore were a little in excess of $700,000. The park will receive approximately $563,000 back for fee demo projects and operation of the fee collection process, which must be approved by the regional office. Projects that were submitted include beach access for the disabled, dune restoration, improvements to Bird Island Basin (including boat ramp maintenance, parking lot expansion, and road construction/repair), building and installation of picnic tables and shade structures, road repairs, tree plantings, improvements to the Malquite Beach visitors center, park boundary survey, marking of the park boundary in the Laguna Madre, and boardwalk construction.
On October 26, 1998 Padre Island National Seashore qualified as a Globally Important Bird Area in American Bird Conservancy's United States Important Bird Areas program. The letter announcing the designation noted that "Specifically, this site provides important habitat for globally significant numbers of Brown Pelicans, Redheads (5% of the world's population), Least Terns (8% of the North American population), Piping Plovers (10% of the world's population), Reddish Egrets (7% of the biogeographic population) and Peregrine Falcons (7% of the North American population)."
During late summer the Western Geophysical Company conducted a seismic survey for the owner of the rights to the minerals beneath the National Seashore (Dunn-McCampbell Royalty Interest, Inc.) and their lessee (Seiskin Interests, Ltd.) The survey covered the portion of the of the National Seashore from the three mile point on South Beach to the northern boundary and included offshore areas. Operations were planned to minimize environmental impact. All-terrain vehicles were used to transport personnel and equipment into the interior of the island. An aluminum-tracked marsh buggy was used where conditions did not permit access by other means. No vehicles were used in sensitive areas; personnel carried equipment by foot. Airboats and various other boats were used in the Laguna Madre and Gulf of Mexico.
Operations consisted of first surveying a grid with axes running east to west and north-northeast to south-southwest. Shot points, where holes were drilled to contain small explosive charges, were placed 220 feet apart along the east-west axes. These were drilled to one of three depths, depending on location and drilling equipment. Receiver points, where recording systems were located, were placed 220 feet apart on the NNE-SSW axes, but 110 feet apart in the Gulf of Mexico. For all work on Padre Island and in the Laguna Madre dynamite was the only energy source to create seismic vibrations. Airguns were used in the Gulf.
Prior to the detonation of a source point, recording equipment was set up on the nearest axes. After detonation, the recording equipment was removed along with all trash stemming from the operation. At the same time the recording equipment was being set up for the next detonation(s). This enabled the company to "leapfrog" operations through the grid.
Although the park has not nor will receive any direct benefit from the study, the potential exists that the park could be effected indirectly. If more oil or natural gas pockets are discovered, the owners of the mineral rights could build more oil/natural gas wells in the park. This will have to be done, however, under the strict supervision of the park in order to minimize damage to park resources.
Hurricane Bret made landfall near the 50 mile marker on August 22, 1999. Bret breached the fore-island dunes in 21 places making 10 washover channels in the island between the 44-mile marker and the Mansfield Channel. These 10 breaches reached the Laguna Madre and were still flowing by the 27th. These averaged 2-4 feet in depth and 75-100 yards in width. The beach was hard-packed for several days following Bret but within 1-2 weeks the areas of soft sand began to reappear and grow.
Soon after the hurricane the superintendent closed the portion of the park beyond the 44 mile marker to vehicular traffic. Many people had attempted to ford the new channels or circumvent them by driving through the surrounding mudflats and had become mired down. Consequently, the drivers often faced a variety of financial charges ranging from towing bills in the hundreds of dollars, fines in the thousands for damaging the park's natural resources, and the occasional loss of a vehicle. By October however, the channels north of the 57 mile marker had filled and access to that point was restored. The remaining channels filled in by the end of December, 1999.
Damage from Bret to park facilities consisted mainly of the loss of shingles, signs, and siding. The buildings receiving the most damage were two cabins at the 30 and 50 mile marker which had been built during the spring for use as camps by biological technicians patrolling for sea turtles. The camp at the 30 mile marker was completely destroyed, while the one at the 50 mile marker lost shingles and three pieces of plywood from the roofs and sides. The park's cultural resources (the line camps, the Nicaragua, and several other sites) were unaffected and appear to be stable. The oil and gas facilities were all shut down prior to Bret and appear unaffected. The spoil islands in the park were unaffected and all nesting colonial waterbirds had left.
Last Updated: 14-Jun-2005