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Don’t mess with Texas

Stories like this really piss me off.

On some days, Darrell Echols feels more like a trash collector than the research scientist he is.

Although his job is to monitor the 380 species of birds that frequent Padre Island National Seashore and to inspect the oil and gas companies drilling there, Echols — like everyone else employed at the park — spends part of his day picking up garbage.

“When you are on the beach, you are tasked to collect one bag of trash per day,” said Echols, chief of Padre Island’s science and resources management division.

The reason: Padre Island National Seashore, according to a nationwide survey completed in 1993 by the National Parks Service, receives more trash than any other national park along the U.S coast.

Every two days, the 68-mile-long beach yields an average of 16 bags of garbage. And that’s not counting the buoys the size of three pick-up trucks, or the 150 to 200 empty drums and buckets that wash ashore every two weeks and require pickup by the only hazardous materials crew in the national park system.

The beach receives so much trash that, during a study of eight national parks on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts that sampled stretches of beach four times a year, there was too much garbage for Padre officials to pick up.

“Padre was so far off the scale, it made others look like they had no issue,” Echols said of the five-year study, the first comprehensive analysis of marine debris on the nation’s sea shores. “We could not get one kilometer done in a week.”

What a damned disgrace. The state of Texas should be ashamed of itself. Actually, we can narrow that down a bit.

From March 1994 to March 1998, researchers collected trash daily from Padre’s beaches and catalogued it into 43 separate categories. The items ranged in size from egg cartons or rubber gloves to 55-gallon drums.

Of the more than 104,000 items collected during that period, the most common were rubber gloves used by shrimpers to protect their hands while separating catches. One-gallon milk jugs, likely from ship galleys, came in second, the researchers found.

The majority of the waste — or 80 percent — matched what was found on shrimp trawlers, a number that Texas shrimpers say is inflated.

“We view the report as singling out the shrimping industry,” said Wilma Anderson, executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association in Aransas Pass, who admitted that in high seas some trash — including rubber gloves — gets washed off the deck.

But “every entity using the beach and water contributes,” she said.

Oh, cry me a river already. Enough with the excuses. What are you going to do about this? The next biggest contributor to the problem, the offshore oil industry, spoke about some specific things they can do to alleviate the situation. Why not quit with the victimization routine and take an objective look at the evidence?

Make no mistake, the only way anything will change here is for the cited industries to take voluntary action. The state of Texas is not going to propose new regulations, since it’s apparently better to spend money cleaning up a mess than it is to spend money preventing the mess in the first place. If the shrimpers tell the state to cram it, the problem will remain the Parks Service’s to deal with. Tragedy of the commons? Never heard of it.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m glad you pointed this article out, Chuck. I hadn’t heard anything like this before.

  2. kodi says:

    I can’t help but notice that the word ‘unfairly’ is not present in the following sentence: “We view the report as singling out the shrimping industry.” I’ve actually seen this a number of times in other contexts – there seems to be an unstated assumption that there’s something wrong with singling out a guilty party, even if their conduct was by far the most egregious.

    “They were all speeding – you just singled me out because I was going over 100!”