Upper Texas Coast in crisis

2008 September 15
tags: ,
by David J. Ringer

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — What’s left of Hurricane Ike has blown back out into the ocean that spawned it, but the devastation that it left behind is only now becoming apparent. Many communities along the Gulf Coast in Texas are badly crippled or totally destroyed by the storm.

Critical breeding grounds, wintering grounds, and migration stopover points for this hemisphere’s avifauna have sustained damage — but how much is not yet known. High Island, Bolivar Flats, Smith Point, Galveston Island, and other locations were hammered hard by the storm. Trees are damaged. Marshes are contaminated by pollutants. Erosion has changed the land.

Loss of human life appears to have been mercifully low under the circumstances, but many families have lost their homes and livelihoods. These are the people and economies that have welcomed and benefited from many thousands of birders who came to visit the patch of the world that they share with so many wonderful birds.

Most of them are displaced tonight. A few are still trying to hold on, a decision which to an outsider seems unbelievably foolish — but who can place himself in their shoes? A Galveston County judge has called for the removal of remaining Bolivar Peninsula residents, against their wishes if necessary.

Health conditions on [Galveston] island are deteriorating,” reports the Galveston County Daily News today. Water is contaminated, mosquito populations have exploded, power is out, flood waters remain in some places, and search and rescue operations are ongoing.

The bridge connecting most of the Bolivar Peninsula to the mainland (at Rollover Pass) has been severely damaged, and some reports say that the ferry landing on the other end of the peninsula has also been damaged. For pictures, see Crystal Beach.

Nerves are fraying as people struggle to cope with the the disaster. Galveston’s officials have ordered a media blackout.

We don’t know the full extent of the damage yet, but it’s clear that the entire ecosystem has suffered a blow. Veteran Texas birder Ted Eubanks posted a call for support on the Texbirds email list tonight, and fellow bird blogger John Mariani also calls for assistance.

This week’s events are tragic, and we must all do what we can to help human victims and the coastal ecosystem recover. That means money and time, not just talk. I’ll post more details as they become available to me.

I can’t help but think back to the days when the entire North American continent was an ever-changing mosaic of habitats and landscapes. Fires, floods, and storms continually changed the land, opening up new opportunities for life even as old patterns and associations were destroyed.

But now that we have pressed and squeezed and strained the land so badly, one natural disaster can be catastrophic in a way that it hardly could have been before. Not only are millions of people and the industries that sustain them pushed right to the very edge, but we’ve cleared so many trees and drained so many marshes that damage even to small geographical areas can have devastating consequences for entire species, which now have nowhere else to turn.

I fear that unless we have enough courage and willpower to change our priorities — even our whole way of life — the consequences of these events will wax worse as we become ever more demanding.

Related posts:

  1. More Gulf Coast photos
  2. More on Texas Ike disaster and how to help
  3. Gulf Coast Day 1: Spectacle and color
  4. Gulf Coast report and Long-tailed Duck
  5. Texas Century Club: Fun for crazy psycho listers!
2 Responses
  1. Farokh permalink
    September 17, 2008

    Well stated.

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