As Harvey’s Waters Recede, Toxins and Affected Wildlife Remain
The waters of Galveston Bay south of Houston and Sabine Lake in the Golden Triangle area (Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange) have had a tremendous amount of water pollution history.
The Houston/Galveston area has numerous superfund sites, which are designated major pollution sites that need years and sometimes decades worth of cleanup efforts. These pollutants have already impacted wildlife and found their way into the human population via fishing which is very popular in the region.
With many superfund sites underwater and flooding into neighborhoods, marshes and into fisheries, what will happen in the long run? Speckled trout, the most popular sport fish on the Texas coast, absorb several potentially deadly pollutants. What are the threats to wildlife and people?
The following warnings come from the Texas Department of Health and have been established in the area for years.
Sabine Lake and contiguous Texas waters in Jefferson and Orange counties (Chemical of Concern: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs):
• For gafftopsail catfish, adults should limit consumption to no more than three, 8-ounce meals per month.
• Children under 12 and women who are pregnant, nursing or may become pregnant should limit consumption to no more than one 4-ounce meal per month
Houston Ship Channel and all contiguous waters north of the Fred Hartman Bridge, State Highway 146 including the San Jacinto River below the Lake Houston dam (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins, Organochlorine pesticides, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs):
• For all species of fish and blue crabs, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.
• Women of childbearing age and children under 12 should not consume any fish or blue crabs from this area.
Upper Galveston Bay and all contiguous waters north of a line drawn from Red Bluff Point to Five-Mile Cut Marker to Houston Point (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs):
• For all species of catfish, spotted seatrout and blue crab, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.
• Children under 12 and women of childbearing age should not consume spotted seatrout, blue crabs or any catfish species from this area. (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
• For all species of catfish, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.
• Children, and women who are nursing, pregnant or who may become pregnant should not consume catfish from these waters. The old statement, “You are what you eat.”
Let’s pray these pollutants don’t impact people already devastated in the region for much wiser stewardship of our resources.
Another issue possible with this storm is one that some might consider the stuff nightmares are made of—snake migration.
There is no question storms move snakes. Floodwaters push up debris that snakes pile on and they get a free ride sometimes dozens of miles inland.
The area being impacted by Hurricane Harvey has a sizable population of rattlesnakes on the islands along the Intracoastal Canal and higher ground in the marshes as well as abundant cottonmouths.
Snake migration via hurricane has happened before. In fact it happened nine years ago after Hurricane Ike hit the Upper Texas Coast.
In 16 years (as of 2008) of covering every aspect of outdoors and wildlife in Southeast Texas and having looked for snakes in the region since I was nine, I had never heard of a western diamondback rattlesnake east of Galveston Island.
Immediately after Hurricane Ike (2008) I interviewed a man who killed a large diamondback on Pleasure Island on Sabine Lake 50 miles to the east of Galveston.
Then within two years more and more stories of western diamondbacks in the region started to surface. A capture reported to us by veteran local meteorologist Greg Bostwick gave us photographic evidence of diamondbacks in the area. “The snake was captured alive about one mile south of my house in Chambers County and was about 4.5 feet long,” Bostwick said.
The snake was found north of Winnie, and that is not typical diamondback territory.
Shortly before Bostwick’s capture, the late Mike Hoke, at the time director of Shangri-La Botanical Gardens, said a diamondback was found during an expedition a while back at the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge in Sabine Pass. It surprised him and his team.
There is no doubt snakes will be found in larger numbers than many would expect in some areas after this storm. So does my own nightmare animal—the one I like the least.
During my coverage of Hurricane Ike in 2008, I learned of a family that stayed in the path of the massive hurricane only a few miles from the beach and had to retreat into the attic and eventually the roof. As waters rose, rats inundated the small strip of high ground along with snakes from the nearby marsh.
Rats that can stay together, will. They have a very strong social order.
But those separated by flooding conditions are still resilient.
According to CDC officials, rodents that survive a disaster often move to new areas. It will take time for rodents to regroup, reorganize their social behavior, become familiar with their new environment, find safe haven, locate food and water, and memorize their movements.
“Colony building and reproduction will begin only when their new ecosystem has stabilized. This typically takes 6 to 10 months under favorable conditions. As the rodent population grows and resettles, people have a greater chance of being exposed to the diseases carried by rodents. Rodent urine and dander also contain allergens that can cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive persons. More than 9,000 persons are treated in emergency departments annually for rat or mouse bites”
Something very few people consider is that a large number of rats found in America’s cities are a foreign invader—the Norway rat.
Dispersed around the world on ships, these highly resilient animals can chew through virtually anything. They can out-compete native rodents for space and food. They will survive virtually anything—including hurricanes and floods.
Very few people consider these things after a flood, but wildlife is also impacted. It’s our job to inform you of what is happening beyond the pavement.
—story byChester Moore