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Sticky situation on Padre Island; what to do when you see tar balls

Posted at 5:18 PM, Jun 14, 2024

  • Balls of tar and oil have been washing up on the beaches of the Coastal Bend this week
  • Oil spill specialists say it is not uncommon for this to happen in the summer
  • Can use dish soap or mineral oil to scrub off skin
  • Contact the Texas General Land Office (GLO) or the United States Coast Guard to report large amounts on beach

Over the past week, beachgoers on Padre Island and Mustang Island have reported balls of tar and oil washing up on shore.

“We didn’t really notice them whenever we came down, but when we were leaving, just so happened to see them floating all around on the sand right there as we were walking up," Lupe Alvarez, a visitor from Austin, said.

It is not uncommon for large amounts of tar balls to wash up during the summer months.

“It is more common to see that in the summer, just because the temperatures are rising, the water temperatures is warmer, the oil temperature is warmer because of that, and it becomes more fluid, and starts to move through the water column," Dr. Keith Muhlestein, Director National Oil Spill Control School TAMUCC, said.

Dr. Muhlestein said that his team tracked this tarball event moving up the coast from the Boca Chica area for the past 10 days. He said that it is a natural occurrence.

“As you know, Texas is rich in natural resources including oil and gas. And periodically the oil will come up through natural seeps, under the water, come to the surface then wash ashore on our beaches," Dr. Muhlestein said.

While the tar balls may look intimidating, Dr. Muhlestein said that they are not toxic for people to touch.

“It’s not permanent, but it can be quite resistant. It’s very sticky and can be very dense and stick to your skin for quite a bit. If it gets on your clothes, that’s even worse. It’s really tough to get it off of your shoes and off of your pets," Dr. Muhlestein said.

If it gets on your skin, some of the best remedies to get it off are scrubbing with mineral oil, baby oil, or dish soap. However, it is not as easy to get off of clothes, shoes, and pets.

“Yeah, we told everyone just to look out because it did get on some of our shoes as well," Alvarez said.

"We really need to be careful that we don’t allow our pets or dogs run up and down the beach to get in that because it’s really tough to get out of their fur," Dr. Muhlestein said.

The Oil Spill Control Team at TAMUCC do not foresee another large oil and tar ball event happening in the Coastal Bend soon. But, it is always a possibility.

If you are walking on the beach and see large amounts of tar and oil and want to report it, you can call the Texas General Land Office Corpus Christi at 361-886-1600, or the U.S. Coast Guard Corpus Christi at 361-939-0200.

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