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Tar Balls: What are they, and why are they on Coastal Bend beaches?

Coastal Beaches Experience Upwelling as Cooler Waters Bring Surprises
Posted at 6:03 PM, Jul 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-24 10:18:23-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Tar balls have been discovered washing up on several beaches in the Coastal Bend.

Jace Tunnell, University of Texas Marine Science Institute marine biologist said tar balls washing up on shore is common.

“Every year we have something called upwelling, which is when the winds are pushing offshore and it’s pushing real deep water up onto our beach, and with that comes nutrients, other debris that might be on the bottom of the ocean but also tar,” Tunnell said.

The small clumps of oil are the result of seepage from underwater oil reserves. Over time, natural processes like weathering and wave action break down the oil, which lead to the formation of these sticky masses.

“There are actually natural seeps in the ocean. Thousands of them in the Gulf of Mexico and it could be seeping; and up to 50 million gallons a year could be seeping out into the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

The upwelling has given beachgoers an unexpected treat of cooler water temperatures.

However, Tunnell said this could play a role in the amount of tar washing up on beaches.

“Usually, we see this occur in the summertime and it’s whenever that upwelling happens which is typically between July and September timeframe. It’s nice to have the cooler water, but it also brings some other things onto the beach,” he said.

Tunnel said it’s important if you come into contact with the tar, to get it off your body to prevent any skin problems.

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